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A Living Wage 









All rights reserved 

fhfjil >i)stat. 


Censor Deputatus. 


Archbishop of Baltimore 


Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1906. Reprinted 
April, 1908; October, 1910; March, 1912; August, 1915. 



JUN - 9 1*3 

' NortoooG 

J. S. Gushing Co. Berwick & Smith Co. 
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A. 


The present volume is little more than half as 
large as the first edition of this work. The first 
two chapters of the original edition have been almost 
entirely omitted because part of the subject matter 
is no longer as timely as it was in 1906, while the 
remainder is not absolutely essential. For similar 
reasons the seven chapters forming the third section 
of the work as it first appeared, have been left out 
of the present edition. In the ten chapters that have 
been retained, a few changes have been made, either 
for the sake of brevity or in order to bring certain 
statistical and other statements up to date. In its 
revised and abridged form, the work is intended 
primarily for those who wish to obtain a compre- 
hensive idea of the subject in the smallest possible 
compass. The writer hopes that it will be found to 
contain nothing superfluous, and yet to embrace 
everything that the average reader cares to know 
concerning the ethical, economic and legal aspects of 
the living wage question. 

" A Living Wage " was the first considerable 
study of the subject published in English. It was 
one of the first publications in any language to 
advocate the establishment of a minimum living 



wage by law. To-day the doctrine that the laborer 
has a moral claim to at least a decent living wage is 
almost universally accepted by all intelligent and 
disinterested persons, while the legal minimum wage 
has found its way into the statute books of countries 
in three continents. Nevertheless, there is still 
much hard work to be done before the principle can 
be fully realized in our industrial system. The pres- 
ent edition is offered to the public in the hope that 
it may make some small contribution to that desir- 
able outcome. 


October, 1919. 



I am glad to have an opportunity to point out 
briefly the significance of Professor Ryan's book, 
as it impresses itself on my mind. We have had 
repeated efforts to stimulate the conscience of the 
Christian world to a keener appreciation of its duties 
to the men, women and children who toil for wages. 
Christian socialism, so-called, has been presented 
frequently by men of various religious denomina- 
tions. A greater sensitiveness to right and wrong 
in economic affairs has undoubtedly been the result 
of this preaching of righteousness. Enlightenment 
has, however, not kept pace with good intention. 
On the contrary, nothing is more noticeable than the 
confusion of mind which very generally accompanies 
good intention. The " plain man " of whom we 
hear so much, has a feeling that our teachers and 
preachers are vague and indefinite. Is there after 
all such a thing as a Christian doctrine of wages? 
The writer of this book, a priest in the Roman Cath- 
olic Church and a teacher in St. Paul Seminary, a 
theological school of that Church, presents to us in 
the following pages, a clear-cut, well-defined theory 
of wages, based upon his understanding of the ap- 
proved doctrines of his religious body. There have 


been attempts in other lands to deduce from the 
teachings of this Church, clear and precise direc- 
tions for our industrial life. We recall the works 
of Bishop von Ketteler of Mainz and the more con- 
servative writings of Professor Charles Perin of the 
University of Louvain in Belgium. While Cardinal 
Manning of England some years ago startled the 
English-speaking world by his enunciation of the 
right of man to a subsistence as prior to the rights 
of property as a doctrine of the Church, and while 
Cardinal Gibbons in the United States has on several 
occasions expressed himself firmly and positively in 
regard to the rights of labor, the present work is, 
so far as I am aware, the first attempt in the English 
language to elaborate what may be called a Roman 
Catholic system of political economy. When I say, 
a Roman Catholic system of political economy, I 
mean an attempt to show exactly what the received 
doctrines of the Church signify in the mind of a 
representative Catholic when they are applied to 
the economic life. It strikes me as a meritorious 
performance at the present juncture to endeavor to 
express as precisely as may be what Christianity has 
to say about wages. 

While members of other religious bodies, Chris- 
tian and Jewish, cannot receive the doctrine of wages 
here set forth merely because it is assumed to rest 
on the approved teachings of the Roman Catholic 
Church, they are not precluded from an examination 
of this question: Does or does not this doctrine of 
wages rest upon broad Christian, religious and eth- 
ical foundations? It will be observed that Profes- 



sor Ryan combines economic and ethical arguments 
with those derived from authority and that it is by 
no means impossible to receive arguments of the first 
class, while refusing adhesion to those of the second 
class. My own feeling then is that this book is to 
be welcomed as an attempt on the part of a religious 
teacher to get beyond vague and glittering general- 
ities to precise doctrine, and to pass from appeals to 
sentiment to reasoned arguments. 

While I have ventured in these few words to show 
what in my opinion is the significance of the present 
work, it is manifestly altogether beyond my province 
now and here to express any views of my own in 
regard to the correctness of its conclusions. 


February, ipo6. 


















The claim to a Living Wage is a right. Character and 
purpose of rights. Sense in which natural rights are ab- 
solute. Men's natural rights are equal in the abstract, but 
unequal in the concrete. They are based on the duty of 
pursuing self-perfection. Other methods of establishing 
their validity. The doctrine of natural rights incompatible 
with individualistic hedonism. The positivistic theory of 
rights means in the concrete that some lives are worth less 
than others. It has less theoretical weakness when stated 
in terms of Hegelianism. Fallacy of the popular argument 
against natural rights. The exaggeration of natural rights 
in the system of the Revolutionary philosophers. The doc- 
trine as here advocated holds a middle ground between 
semi-anarchism and state absolutism. 

The thesis to be maintained in this volume is that 
the laborer's claim to a Living Wage is of the 
nature of a right. This right is personal, not merely 
social : that is to say, it belongs to the individual as 
individual, and not as member of society-; it is the, 
laborer's personal prerogative, not his share of social 
good; and its primary end is the welfare of the 
laborer, not that of society. Again, it is a natural, 
not a positive right ; for it is born with the individ- 
ual, derived from his rational nature, not conferred 
upon him by a positive enactment. In brief, the 



right to a Living Wage is individual, natural and 

A right in the moral sense of the term may be 
defined as an inviolable moral claim to some personal 
good. When this claim is created, as it sometimes 
is, by civil authority it is a positive or legal right; 
when it is derived from man's rational nature it is 
a natural right. All rights are means, moral means, 
whereby the possessor of them is enabled to reach 
some end. Natural rights are the moral means or 
opportunities by which the individual attains the 
end appointed to him by nature. For the present 
it is sufficient to say that this end is right and reason- 
able life. The exigencies of right and reasonable 
living, therefore, determine the existence, and num- 
ber, and extent of man's natural rights. Just as his 
intellectual, volitional, sensitive, nutritive and motive 
faculties are the positive, or physical, agencies by 
which he lives and acts as a human being, so his nat- 
ural rights are the moral faculties requisite to the 
same end. He cannot attain this end adequately un- 
less he is regarded by his fellows as morally immune 
from arbitrary interference. They must hold them- 
selves morally restrained from hindering him in the 
reasonable exercise of his faculties. His powers 
of intellect, will, sense, nutrition and motion will be 
of little use to him if his neighbors may licitly de- 
prive him, whenever it may suit their convenience, 
of his external goods, or his liberty, or his mem- 
bers, or his life. In addition to his positive powers, 
he stands in need of those moral powers which give 
to his claim upon certain personal goods that char- 



acter of sacredness which restrains or tends to re- 
strain arbitrary interference by his fellows. 

Man's natural rights are absolute, not in the sense 
that they are subject to no limitations which 
would be absurd but in the sense that their valid- 
ity is not dependent on the will of anyone except the 
person in whom they inhere. They are absolute in 
existence but not in extent. Within reasonable 
limits their sacredness and binding force can never 
cease. Outside of these limits, they may in certain 
contingencies disappear. If they were not absolute 
to this extent, if there were no circumstances in 
which they were secure against all attacks, they 
would not deserve the name of rights. The matter 
may be made somewhat clearer by one or two ex- 
amples. The right to life is said to be absolute 
because no human power may licitly kill an innocent 
man as a mere means to the realization of any end 
whatever. The life of the individual person is so 
sacred that, as long as the right thereto has not been 
forfeited by the perverse conduct of the subject 
himself, it may not be subordinated to the welfare 
of any other individual or any number of individuals. 
Not even to preserve its own existence may the State 
directly and deliberately put an unoffending man to 
death. When, however, the individual is not inno- 
cent, when by such actions as murder or attempted 
murder he has forfeited his right to live, he may, 
of course, be rightfully executed by civil authority, 
or killed in self-defense by his fellow man. He may 
also be compelled to risk his life on behalf of his 
country, for that is a part of his duty ; and he may 



with entire justice be deprived of life indirectly and 
incidentally, as when non-combatants are unavoid- 
ably killed in a city that is besieged in time of war. 
Again, the right to liberty and property are not 
absolute in the sense that the individual may have 
as much of these goods as he pleases and do with 
them as he pleases, but inasmuch as within reason- 
able limits which are always determined by the 
essential needs of personal development these 
rights are sacred and inviolable. 

With respect to their natural rights, all men are 
equal, because all are equal in the rational nature 
from which such rights are derived. By nature 
every man is a person, that is, a rational, self-active, 
independent being. Every man is rational because 
endowed with the faculties of reason and will. His 
will impels him to seek the good, the end, of his 
being, and his reason enables him to find and adjust 
means to this end. Every man is self-active, inas- 
much as he is master of his own faculties and able in 
all the essentials of conduct to direct his own actions. 
Every man is independent in the sense that he is 
morally complete in himself, is not a part of any 
other man, nor inferior to any man, either in the 
essential qualities of his being or in the end toward 
which he is morally bound to move. In short, 
every individual is an " end in himself," and has a 
personality of his own to develop through the exer- 
cise of his own faculties. Because of this equality 
in the essentials of personality, men are of equal 
intrinsic worth, have ends to attain that are of equal 
intrinsic importance, and consequently have equal 



natural rights to the means without which these ends 
cannot be achieved. 

Only in the abstract, however, are men's natural 
rights equal. In the concrete they are unequal, just 
2 are the concrete natures from which they spring. 1 
This is not to say that equality of rights is an empty 
abstraction, without any vital meaning or force or 
consequences in actual life. Men are equal as re- 
gards the number of their natural rights. The most 
important of these are the rights to life, to liberty, to 
property, to a livelihood, to marriage, to religious 
worship, to intellectual and moral education. These 
inhere in all men without distinction of person, but 
they have not necessarily the same extension, or 
content, in all. Indeed, proportional justice re- 
quires that individuals endowed with different 
powers should possess rights that vary in degree. 
For example, the right to a livelihood and the right 
to an education will include a greater amount of the 
means of living and greater opportunities of self- 
improvement in the cases of those who have greater 
needs and greater capacities. But in every case the 
natural rights of the individual will embrace a cer- 
tain minimum of the goods to which these rights 
refer, which minimum is determined by the reason- 
able needs of personality. The rights that any per- 
son will possess in excess of this minimum will 
depend upon a variety of circumstances, individual 
and social. Hence, instead of saying that the nat- 

1 For an explanation of the distinction between abstract 
or specific and concrete or individual equality, see, Tapa- 
relli, " Droit naturel," nos. 354-363, and Cronin, " The Sci- 
ence of Ethics," vol. I, ch. XX. 



ural rights of all men are equal in the abstract but 
not in the concrete, it would perhaps be more correct, 
or at least less misleading, to describe them as equal 
in kind, number and sacredness, and in extension 
relatively to their particular subjects; but not in 
quantity nor in absolute content. 

Such in bare outline is the theory of the character, 
purpose, and extent of natural rights. Do they 
really exist ? Is the individual really endowed with 
moral prerogatives, inviolable claims, in virtue of 
which it is wrong, for instance, to take from him, 
so long as he is innocent of crime, his life or his 
liberty ? Whence comes the validity and sacredness 
of these claims? The answers to these questions 
have already been briefly indicated in the statement 
of the end for which the claims exist. Natural 
rights are necessary means of right and reasonable 
living. They are essential to the welfare of a 
human being, a person. They exist and are sacred 
and inviolable because the welfare of the person 
exists as a fact of the ideal order and is a 
sacred and inviolable thing. It was Cicero who 
wrote : " Fine in philosophia constituto, constituta 
sunt omnia." In problems of philosophy, when we 
have established the end we have established all 
things else. Let us look more deeply, then, into the 
scope and character of this end to which natural 
rights are but means. 

Right and reasonable life, the welfare of the per- 
son, consist in the development of man's personality 
through the harmonious and properly ordered exer- 
cise of his faculties. He should subordinate his 



sense-faculties to his rational faculties ; exercise his 
rational faculties consistently with the claims of his 
Creator and the reasonable demands of his fellows ; 
and seek the goods that minister to the senses and 
the selfish promptings of the spirit in subordination 
to the higher goods, namely, those of the intellect 
and of the disinterested will. In a word, the su- 
preme earthly goal of conduct is to know in the 
highest degree the best that is to be known, and to 
love in the highest degree the best that is to be 
loved. These highest objects of knowledge and 
love are God, and, in proportion to the degrees of 
excellence that they possess, His creatures. To 
prove that these moral and spiritual values are facts, 
we have only to appeal to the consciousness of any 
normally constituted human being. The average 
man has an abiding conviction that the rational 
faculties are higher, nobler, more excellent, of 
greater intrinsic worth than the sense-faculties ; that 
consequently the goods of the mind are to be pre- 
ferred to those of the senses; and that among the 
activities of the rational powers those dictated by 
disinterested love are intrinsically better than those 
which make for selfishness. These primary and 
general moral intuitions produce in the mind of the 
person who heeds them the conviction that it is not 
only reasonable but obligatory for him to pursue the 
path of conduct thus dimly outlined. The imme- 
diate objective basis of this obligation is the intrin- 
sic superiority of the higher faculties, the infinite 
worth of God, and the essential sacredness of human 
personality. The ultimate source of the obligation 



is the Will of God ; just as the ultimate source of the 
distinction between the higher and lower faculties, 
activities, and goods is the Divine Essence ; and just 
as the ultimate source of the intuitions by which we 
perceive these distinctions is the Divine Reason. 

Since, therefore, the individual is obliged to live 
a moral and reasonable life in the manner just 
described, the means to this end, i.e., natural rights, 
are so necessary and so sacred that all other persons 
than the one in whom they reside are morally re- 
strained from interfering with or ignoring them. 
The dignity of personality imposes upon the individ- 
ual the duty of self-perfection ; he cannot fulfil this 
duty adequately unless he is endowed with natural 
rights. Such is the immediate basis of natural 
rights and the proximate source of their sacredness ; 
their ultimate source is to be found in the Reason 
and Will of God, who has decreed that men shall 
pursue self-perfection and that they shall not arbi- 
trarily deprive one another of the means essential 
to this purpose. 

This method of basing the individual's natural 
rights upon his duties is perhaps the one most com- 
monly employed by those writers who hold indi- 
vidual perfection to be the immediate end and rule 
of conduct. According to another mode of reason- 
ing, they rest, not upon the duties of their possessor, 
but upon those duties of other men toward him 
which are called juridical, that is, the " other-re- 
garding " duties that cover goods which in the strict 
sense belong to him as his own. Thus the fulfilment 
of lawful contracts is a juridical duty, while assist- 



ing the needy is only a duty of charity. All jurid- 
ical duties may be summed up in the command, 
" thou shalt not arbitrarily interfere with the exter- 
nal liberty of thy fellow man," for external liberty 
comprises all those opportunities of activity, acqui- 
sition and possession that are essential to the pur- 
suit of reasonable self-perfection. Corresponding 
to and implied by these juridical duties in one man 
are those moral prerogatives in other men that we 
call natural rights. The foundation and source of 
these duties is that precept of the natural law (un- 
derstanding by natural law that portion of God's 
eternal law which applies to human conduct and is 
written in the human reason) which enjoins men 
to respect the dignity of human personality in one 
another. 1 

This line of argument, however, suggests that not 
even the juridical duties of men are formally neces- 
sary as a basis and justification of natural rights. 
These duties are, indeed, imposed upon man by the 
natural law, but the reason why this particular pre- 
cept of the law exists, as well as the reason that con- 
strains us to believe that it does exist, is to be found 
in the intrinsic and inviolable worth of the individ- 
ual. That is the ultimate basis on this side of 
God of both juridical duties and natural rights. 
To prove the existence of the latter, it seems, there- 
fore, logically sufficient to show that because of his 
intrinsic dignity a person is morally privileged to 
pursue self-perfection, and his fellows are morally 
restrained from hindering his exercise of the priv- 

1 Cf. Cronin, loc. cit. 


ilege. Natural rights may be likened to the legal 
right by which a man holds a piece of land that he 
has bought from the State. His claim thereto is 
founded neither upon his duty to support his family 
(to which end the produce of the land may be as- 
sumed to be the necessary means) nor upon the 
obligation which binds his neighbors to leave him 
in undisturbed possession. Similarly, the individ- 
ual's natural rights may be regarded as independent 
both of his own duties and of the duties which these 
rights occasion in his fellows. 1 

Finally, natural rights can be logically defended 
on the principles of what may be called intuitive 
hedonism. There are men who maintain that the 
supreme end and rule of conduct is universal happi- 
ness. By this phrase they mean, not " the greatest 
happiness of the greatest number," nor the general 
happiness of the group or of society, - all of which 
are equivalent in the concrete to the happiness of the 
majority but the happiness of each and every 
human being. They insist that, since human happi- 
ness is the good of a person, it has intrinsic worth, 
is in itself a sacred thing, and that all individuals 
have, therefore, essentially equal claims to the op- 
portunity of pursuing it. This doctrine is hedonis- 
tic, inasmuch as it makes happiness the ultimate end, 
and intuitive, inasmuch as it postulates not merely 
the desirableness of personal happiness, but the in- 
trinsic worth of all human happiness. The late 

1 Cf. " The Theory of Morals," by Paul Janet, Book II, 
ch. IV, in which the author defends a doctrine very similar 
to the one just outlined, although he strangely calls a right 
a "responsibility." 



Professor Sidgwick held substantially this view, 
although he admitted that it contains an inherent 
contradiction. 1 For if the intuition of " rational 
benevolence " be acknowledged as logically sufficient 
to compel me to forego my own happiness for the 
greater happiness of others, then the ultimate end, 
rule and determinant of right action is no longer my 
happiness which is the only " desirable conscious- 
ness " that can have any meaning for me but con- 
formity to the dictates of reason. In other words, 
reason assures me that human happiness is valuable 
per se, while all my aspirations and experiences tell 
me happiness is a good only in so far as it provides 
me with agreeable states of consciousness. If, how- 
ever, the general principle be admitted in spite of 
its inherent weakness, a system of natural rights 
can be logically deduced therefrom. 

All of these methods, therefore, posit as the ulti- 
mate earthly basis of the individual's natural rights 
the inherent sacredness of his personality. This is 
true even of the argument which derives rights from 
the duty of perfecting one's self ; for this duty is 
itself founded upon the intrinsic worth of the per- 
son, specifically of his higher faculties. Hence we 
find that those who reject the doctrine of natural 
rights, and who reason logically, reject likewise the 
principle of the essential and absolute dignity of 
every human being. They either deny that any- 
thing in the universe possesses intrinsic worth, or 
assert that social welfare is the highest good. To 

i See his " Methods of Ethics," Book III, chapters XIII 
and XIV ; and Book IV, concluding chapter, 6th ed. 



the former class belong the believers in egoistic 
hedonism; to the latter, the social utilitarians and 
the Hegelians. 

For those who maintain that the supreme end of 
life and rule of conduct is one's own happiness, 
there can, of course, be no such thing as a right in 
the moral sense of the term. There is no sacred- 
ness, no intrinsic worth, no obligation-compelling 
force in either the concept or the fact of happiness 
unqualified and divorced from all consideration of 
the dignity of personality. The person who refuses 
to seek his own happiness can be condemned as un- 
wise but not as immoral. And if he is not, in any 
true sense of the word, under moral obligation to 
procure happiness for himself, neither is he bound 
by any sort of duty to respect or refrain from hin- 
dering the happiness of others. As there is no sa- 
credness in the end happiness and none in the 
persons pursuing it, so there can be no sacredness 
in the means those opportunities of activity that 
we call rights and no obligation to respect them. 
In such a system individual rights have neither log- 
ical foundation nor intelligible meaning. Again, if 
personal happiness be the ultimate aim and criterion 
of reasonable conduct it is altogether fitting and 
reasonable that each man should interpret happiness 
in his own way, and strive to obtain it by whatever 
means seem to him best, regardless of such unrea- 
sonable and unfounded restraints as rights and obli- 

This purely egoistic hedonism seems to be com- 
pletely and consistently accepted by only a very small 



minority of the world's thinkers. Even with them 
it is a merely speculative belief. In practice they 
reject or at least modify it, in common with the 
overwhelming majority of the men and women who 
live outside of lunatic asylums. A formal refuta- 
tion of it in the interest of the doctrine of natural 
rights is, therefore, unnecessary. Of much greater 
importance for our contention is the theory that all 
rights are positive, that is, derived from society, and 
conferred upon the individual primarily for the 
benefit of society and only secondarily for the sake 
of the individual. 1 Individual rights are valid in 

1 In substance this theory seems to be held by a majority 
of the non-Catholics of our time who write on justice and 
political philosophy. Not all state it in the same language 
nor restrict the concrete rights of the individual to the same 
extent, but all accept the principle that the individual has no 
right which society may not in certain contingencies annul 
for its own welfare. The sources of the theory are chiefly : 
(i) writers who opposed the doctrines of the French Revo- 
lution, such as, Edmund Burke in " Reflections on the 
Revolution in France," and Joseph de Maistre in " Essai 
sur le principe generateur des constitutions politiques " ; (2) 
juristic writers who, in opposition to the Eighteenth century 
teaching on natural rights, endeavored to place all rights on 
a basis of historical facts and development, the most prom- 
inent of whom were F. C. de Savigny in " System des 
roemischen Rechts," and F. C. Stahl in " Philosophic des 
Rechts " ; (3) the Hegelian conception of the State as the 
highest manifestation of the Universal Reason and Will, 
the source of all rights, and the absolute end to which the 
individual must subordinate his particular aims and activ- 
ity; see Hegel's " Grundlinien der Philosophic des Rechts," 
and Lasson's " System der Rechts-philospphie " ; (4) and 
finally, the doctrine of evolutionist utilitarianism, which 
emphasizes the importance of race progress at the expense 
of the individual. 

Some indications of common points in the last two 
sources will be found in chapter II of Ritchie's " Darwin 
and Hegel," while recent statements of the general posi- 
tivistic theory of rights are contained in " Natural Rights," 



so far as they do not hinder the social weal. " By 
himself," says Mackenzie, " a man has no right to 
anything whatever. He is a part of the social 
whole; and he has a right only to that which it is 
for the good of the whole that he should have." x 
In this view the social organism becomes an end in 
itself ; and its good becomes the final goal and rule 
of human conduct. Now society is, indeed, some- 
thing more than an abstraction, something more 
than the sum of its component individuals. And its 
function is not simply to guarantee equal liberty to 
all its members, in the sense of Immanuel Kant and 
Herbert Spencer, It is a real entity, a moral body, 
an organism, whose purpose is to safeguard the 
rights and promote to a reasonable degree the wel- 
fare of every one of its members. It is an organism 
only by analogy, however ; not literally or physically. 
It is an organism inasmuch as its members are mutu- 
ally dependent, and have diverse functions; inas- 
much as it persists amid continuous changes in its 
membership, and will retain its identity after all its 
present members shall have perished ; and inasmuch 
as its health is determined by the health of its mem- 
bers, and in turn reacts upon the latter. When this 
much has been said the analogy between society and 

by the same author, in Hobson's " Social Problem," and in 
Willoughby's " Social Justice." Good presentations of the 
doctrine of natural rights defended in this chapter are 
made by Taparelli, " Droit naturel," and Cronin, " The Sci- 
ence of Ethics," I, xx. Finally Hegel's general concept of 
personality is successfully attacked in Andrew Seth's 
" Hegelianism and Personality," especially on pp. 67-69 
and in the concluding chapter. 
1 " A Manual of Ethics," p. 296. 



a biological organism is about exhausted. Society 
is not an organism in the sense that it is a finality. 
Its members do not exist and function for its wel- 
fare; they possess intrinsic worth and sacredness. 
Hence it is not an organism in which the individual's 
personality is merged and lost, like the branch in the 
tree, to use the illustration of Hegel. Society has, 
indeed, rights that are distinct from the rights of 
the individuals composing it, and its scope and aims 
reach beyond the welfare of the men and women 
that live in it at any given time. It has the right, for 
example, to make war, which the individual has not ; 
and to prevent the ruthless destruction of forests, 
which prohibition may be contrary to the interests 
and wishes of its present members. Nevertheless, 
every right that society possesses, every act that it 
performs, every assertion that it makes of its legiti- 
mate power over individuals, is ultimately for the 
sake of individuals. It cannot otherwise be justi- 
fied, for it is not an end in itself. 

Let us concede for the moment that society exists 
for its own sake, is its own highest good. All its 
powers, prerogatives and activities will be naturally 
used as a means to this end. Whenever individ- 
uals, however innocent of wrong doing, impede 
society's progress they are to be relentlessly blotted 
out of existence. Let us suppose that as a result of 
this social selection the general level of the race is 
much higher than it would have been had regard 
been paid to the " superstition " of natural rights. 
Society has been treated as an end in itself, and the 
result is a more excellent society. 



It must be evident that the individuals who have 
been removed to bring about this result could not 
reasonably have been expected to make the sacrifice 
willingly. They could not have been satisfied to 
efface themselves for the sake of society as distinct 
from its members, since this would be to die for an 
abstraction. Nor is it likely that any considerable 
number of them were willing to forego existence' 
in order that the individuals who were left behind 
might enjoy a more complete existence in the im- 
proved society ; for the real meaning of this situation 
is that the former have been used as mere instru- 
ments to the welfare of the latter. It is not reason- 
able to expect men to devote themselves completely 
to any other end than their own highest good, and a 
superior society cannot be the highest good for those 
who must be annihilated as a condition of its real- 
ization. They will very naturally prefer to run the 
risk of securing their own welfare in a less perfect 
social organization. There is no duty constraining 
one section of the community not simply to risk 
their lives, as in a just war but to submit to be 
killed by the social authority, in order that the sur- 
viving citizens may have the benefit of a more 
efficient State. The same statement may be made 
concerning any other of the individual's natural and 
essential rights. And if the individuals whose 
rights are treated as non-existent are neither willing 
nor bound by moral obligation to make the sacrifice, 
the State has certainly no right, no moral power, to 
treat them as a means pure and simple to the wel- 
fare of those of its members who are permitted to 



survive. For, juggle as we will with the terms 
" social utility " and " social welfare," talk as 
obscurely as we may about regarding the individual 
from the viewpoint of society, the true meaning of 
the assertion that the rights of the individual are 
derived from and wholly subordinate to society, is 
that the lives of those who are less useful to society 
are essentially inferior to the lives of those who are 
more useful. And not until those who reject nat- 
ural rights have succeeded in proving that some 
human lives are less sacred, have less intrinsic worth, 
stand on a lower grade of being than others, can 
they indulge the hope of winning over any consid- 
erable number of thinkers to the contention that the 
individual even the poorest and lowliest person 
that breathes has no rights that are indestructible 
by society. 

The positivist theory of rights becomes more for- 
midable, at least at first sight, when it is stated in 
terms of Hegelianism. The question is no longer 
one between the relative interests and importance of 
the stronger, wiser and more virtuous citizens on 
the one hand, and of the weaker, less intelligent and 
more vicious on the other. Organized society, or 
the State, is in this system regarded as a good in 
itself, the highest manifestation of the Universal 
Reason, which is the only final reality. The all- 
important consideration, then, is to see that this 
highest embodiment of the Universal Reason or 
World-Spirit called the State, shall reach the fullest 
possible development. Compared with this purpose, 
the welfare of individuals, who are merely partic- 




ular and imperfect realizations of the one great 
reality, is insignificant. Their importance is analo- 
gous to that of the individual trees in a beautiful 
grove; the totality called the grove is the supreme 
end, to which the existence and condition of any 
particular tree is entirely subordinate. The rights 
of the individual are, therefore, derived from the 
State and intended for the greater glory of the 
State. The late Professor Ritchie, one of the ablest 
of the Hegelians who wrote in English, describes the 
rights and dignity of the human person thus : 
" Every human being may claim a right to be con- 
sidered as such, because he potentially shares in the 
consciousness of the Universal Reason." * Each 
individual is, as it were, a receptacle of the Universal 
Reason, and derives therefrom all his worth and 
sacredness. When, consequently, the life or liberty 
of the individual begins to be an obstacle to the 
activity or unfolding of the Universal Reason, when- 
ever the interests of the Universal Reason demand 
that any given individual should cease to embody it, 
he may lawfully be put to death, just as a diseased 
limb may be severed from the body, or a leaking pot 
be consigned to the scrap heap. If the Pantheistic 
basis of this deification of the State be accepted the 
theory of rights reared upon it is entirely logical. 
It may well be doubted, however, whether this blind, 
impersonal entity known as the Universal Reason 
seems to any considerable number of persons to have 
the moral authority requisite to oblige them to sur- 
render their particular existence for its aggrandize- 

1 " Natural Rights," pp. 96, 97. 


ment. And of the few who may recognize the 
supreme rights of the Universal Reason, not all will 
acknowledge that its loftiest manifestation is to be 
found in the very fallible and very imperfect State 
in which they happen to live. An attempt to refute 
the metaphysical assumptions underlying the Hege- 
lian theory of rights is, consequently, not much 
needed at this time. 

One of the most frequent of the popular argu- 
ments against natural rights runs thus : All rights 
come into existence, become necessary, and obtain 
adequate protection only in society; hence they are 
derived from society, exist for a social end, and 
should be exercised chiefly for the social welfare. 
This presentation is vitiated by an incorrect analysis 
and by unwarranted inferences. Not all of man's 
rights require a social organization, or even social 
contact of any kind, in order that they should be- 
come existent. All that is necessary is that two men 
be alive at the same time. They may be thousands 
of miles apart, may not even know of each other's 
existence, yet each will possess in full validity such 
natural rights as those of life, liberty and property, 
and will be morally restrained from hindering his 
fellow in the reasonable exercise of these rights. 
As to the second contention, it is true that rights are 
not needed until men come into some form of social 
intercourse; for a right means the moral power of 
restraining others from interfering with one's per- 
sonal goods, and if there is no one near enough to 
interfere the moral restraint is unnecessary and im- 
practicable; but this does not prove that rights are 



created by society, any more than the fact that even- 
ing dress is worn only at certain " functions " proves 
that this form of apparel is created by or for the 
" functions." The clothes are intended for the in- 
dividual wearers on certain occasions. In like man- 
ner, the individual's rights have for their primary 
purpose his own welfare in society. Finally, the 
fact that a man's rights can be sufficiently protected 
only in civil society is not a reason why they should 
be entirely subordinated to the ends of society, any 
more than the employer's dependence upon his em- 
ployees puts him under obligation to turn over to 
them all his profits. 

Academic opposition to the doctrine of natural 
rights is directed not so much against the moderate 
conception of them that has always prevailed in 
Catholic ethical teaching, as against the exaggerated 
and anti-social form in which they were proclaimed 
by the political philosophers of France, and even by 
some of those of England and America, in the latter 
half of the eighteenth century. The Catholic view, 
which is the one defended in this chapter, is, as 
already noted, that the individual's natural rights are 
derived from and determined by his nature, that is 
to say, his essential constitution, relations and end. 
They are also said to proceed from the natural law, 
which is simply that portion of God's eternal law 
that applies to actions of human beings. The nat- 
ural law is so expressed in man's nature that its 
general precepts may readily be known, partly by 
intuition and partly by analyzing man's faculties, 
tendencies and destiny. In the view of the Revolu- 



tionary philosophers, however, " nature " and " nat- 
ural " referred not to what is essential and perma- 
nent in man, but to that which is primitive and 
unconventional. Hence they laid more stress on the 
" state of nature " than on the " law of nature." x 
The natural law was merely that very simple and 
very primitive system of rules that would suffice for 
the state of nature, in which political restraints 
would be unknown, or at least reduced to a min- 
imum. As the late Professor Ritchie has well said : 
" To the Thomist 2 the law of nature is an ideal for 
human law ; to the Rousseauist it is an ideal to be 
reached by getting rid of human law altogether." 3 
In the mind of the Revolutionist, therefore, to re- 
establish the law of nature meant to shake off the 
cumbersome and obstructive political regulations of 
the day, and get back to the simple state of nature, 
the semi-anarchical conditions of primitive times. 
This was, of course, a very inadequate interpretation 
of man's nature and of the natural law. No such 
" state of nature " ever existed or ever could exist 
compatibly with civilization. No valid conclusion 
regarding the individual's liberties, duties or rights 
could be deduced from his position and relations iri 
this imaginary and irrational existence. Neverthe- 
less, upon it were based and by it were measured 
men's natural rights in the Revolutionary system. 
As a consequence, the rights of the individual were 
exaggerated and the rights of society minimized. 

1 Cf . Bonar, " Philosophy and Political Economy," p. 186. 

2 And the Catholic philosopher generally. 

3 " Natural Rights," p. 43- 



In practice this juristic liberalism has meant, and 
always will mean, that the State allows to the strong 
the legal right and power to oppress the weak. A 
good example of the evil is to be found in the results 
of the economic policy of laissez-faire. It is no 
wonder that there has been a reaction against this 
pernicious, anti-social and really unnatural theory of 
natural rights. 

The doctrine of natural rights outlined in the fore- 
going pages holds, then, a middle ground between 
the Revolutionary and the positivistic theories of the 
origin and extent of the rights of the individual. 
It insists that the individual is endowed by nature, 
or rather, by God, with the rights that are requisite 
to a reasonable development of his personality, and 
that these rights are, within due limits, sacred 
against the power even of the State; but it insists 
that no individual's rights extend so far as to pre- 
vent the State from adjusting the conflicting claims 
of individuals and safeguarding the just welfare of 
all its citizens. In other words, _man'sjiatu.ral rights^ 
must not be so widely interpreted that the strong, 
and the cunning, and the unscrupulous will be able, 
under the pretext of individual liberty, to exploit 
and overreach the weak, and simple, and honest ma- 
jority. The formula that correctly describes the 
limits of individual rights is not the one enounced by 
Kant and Fichte, namely, that a person has a right to 
do everything that does not interfere with the equal 
liberty of others. 1 Interpreted in one way, this f or- 

1 See Kant's " Metaphysik der Sitten," section C, and 
Fichte's " Science of Rights," p. 161, Kroeger's translation. 

2 4 


mula is utterly incapable of application, since the 
doing of an action by one man means the limitation 
to that degree of the liberty of all other men. Un- 
derstood in a completely subjective sense, it would 
justify and legalize theft, adultery and murder ; for 
I may claim the right to steal if I am willing that 
others should enjoy the same liberty. The true 
formula is, that the individual has a right to all 
things that are essential to the reasonable develop- 
ment of his personality, consistently with the rights 
of others and the complete observance of the moral 
law. Where this rule is enforced the rights of all 
individuals, and of society as well, are amply and 
reasonably protected. On the other hand, if the 
individual's rights are given a narrower interpreta- 
tion, if on any plea of public welfare they are 
treated by the State as non-existent, there is an end 
to the dignity of personality and the sacredness of 
human life. Man becomes merely an instrument of 
the State's aggrandizement, instead of the final end 
of its solicitude and the justification of its existence. 
If all rights are derived from the State, and deter- 
mined by the needs of the State, the laborer has no 
such thing as a natural right to a Living Wage, nor 
any kind of right to any measure of wages, except 
in so far as the community would thereby be bene- 
fited. President Hadley tells us that some workers 
are more profitable at a low wage than at a high 
one, that the " economy of high wages " is not a 
universal law. " There are some men whose maxi- 
mum efficiency per unit of food is obtained with 
small consumption and small output. These go into 



lines requiring neither exceptional strength nor ex- 
ceptional skill, and remain poor because the best 
commercial economy in such lines is obtained by a 
combination of low output and low consumption." x 
Those who would measure the rights of the individ- 
ual by the social weal must logically conclude that 
whenever " the best commercial economy " is se- 
cured by " low consumption," in other words, by' 
low wages, the underpaid worker, let him be never 
so cruelly " sweated," is not treated unjustly and 
has no right to a larger remuneration. Hence the 
importance of the doctrine of rights to the subject 
of this volume; for it cannot be shown that every 
laborer has an ethical claim to a Living Wage unless 
the teaching of Christianity be accepted, to wit : 
" That every individual by virtue of his eternal des- 
tination is at the core somewhat holy and indestruct- 
ible; that the smallest part has a value of its own, 
and not merely because it is part of a whole: that 
every man is to be regarded by the community, 
never as a mere instrument, but also as an end." 2 

1 " Economics," section 363. 

2 Gierke, " Political Theories of the Middle Age," p. 82. 




The right to a Living Wage is derived from the right to 
live from the bounty of the earth. The latter right ac- 
knowledged by most nations and insisted upon by Chris- 
tianity. It is evident from a view of man's nature and his 
relation to the earth. It is superior to and limits the right 
of private ownership. Meaning of a decent livelihood. Its 
rational basis is the sacredness of personality. Men have 
not natural rights to equal amounts of goods; for they are 
unequal both in individual needs and productive powers. 
Nor rights to equal satisfaction of the totality of their 
needs. Circumstances by which the right to a decent live- 
lihood is conditioned. 

According to the argument made in the last chap- 
ter, the source of natural rights is the dignity of the 
human person, while their scope is determined by 
the person's essential needs. A man's natural rights 
are as many and as extensive as are the liberties, 
opportunities and possessions that are required for 
the reasonable maintenance and development of his 
personality. They may all be reduced to the right 
to a reasonable amount of external liberty of action. 
Some of them, for instance, the right to live and the 
right to marry, are original and primary, inhering 
in all persons of whatever condition; others are 



derived and secondary, occasioned and determined 
by the particular circumstances of particular per- 
sons. To the latter class belongs the right to a 
Living Wage. It is not an original and universal 
right ; for the receiving of wages supposes that form 
of industrial organization known as the wage sys- 
tem, which has not always existed and is not essen- 
tial to human welfare. Even to-day there are mil- 
lions of men who get their living otherwise than by 
wages, and who, therefore, have no juridical title 
to wages of any kind or amount. The right to a 
Living Wage is evidently a derived right which is 
measured and determined by existing social and 
industrial institutions. 

The primary natural right from which the right 
to a Living Wage is deduced, is the right to subsist 
upon the bounty of the earth. All people have 
given more or less definite adhesion to the truth that 
the earth is the common heritage of all the children 
of men. Emil de Laveleye and Sir Henry Maine 
tell us that, " originally the soil belonged in common 
to communities of kinsmen"; and Cliffe-Leslie, 
speaking of the wild herbs, fruits, berries and roots 
which were the earliest forms of property, says: 
" Individuals did not regard these as their own abso- 
lute property, but as part of the common fund of the 
community." x Whatever objections may lie in the 
way of the theory of primitive communism in land, 
the facts at our disposal seem to indicate that 
scarcely any community has regarded as thieves 

1 Introduction to Laveleye's " Primitive Property," pp. 
vi, vii. Cf. Wallace's " Russia." 



those of its own members who seized their neigh- 
bor's goods as a last resource against starvation. 
This is especially true of the nations that have 
adopted the moral teachings of Christianity. In the 
early centuries of the Christian era the task of pro- 
viding for the poor and needy was accepted and 
recognized by the bishops and secular clergy, the 
monasteries and other religious institutions, as an 
obligation of legal justice ; in modern times it is most 
frequently discharged through the legislation known 
as poor laws. Underlying these various practices 
and institutions is the Christian conviction that every 
human being has not only a claim in charity, but a 
strict right to as much of the wealth of the com- 
munity as is necessary to maintain his life. Such 
was the doctrine of the early Fathers of the Church, 
and such has been the doctrine of all her authorita- 
tive^ teachers down to the present hour. The teach- 
ing of Basil in the East and Ambrose in the West 
may be taken as representing the mind of all the 
Fathers. The former tells the rich man that the 
superfluous bread, shoes and clothes in his posses- 
sion belong to his hungry and naked neighbors, 
while the latter declares that the man of wealth who- 
gives to the poor is not bestowing an alms but pay- 
ing a debt. 1 The greatest of the theologians, St. 
Thomas Aquinas, maintained that the man in ex- 
treme need who had no other resource was justified 
in supplying his necessities from the goods of his 

1 For a fairly good account of the attitude of the Fathers 
toward private property, see Ryan, "Alleged Socialism of 
the Church Fathers." 

2 9 


neighbor, and that this would riot, properly speaking, 
be theft. 1 Again, he says it is well that property 
should be owned privately, but that the use of it 
should be common, so that all persons may be sus- 
tained out of its abundance. 2 In this statement we 
have undoubtedly an echo and development of the 
saying of Aristotle that, " it is best to make property 
private but to have the use of it common." 3 

This claim of the individual to a livelihood, which 
seems to be allowed by the moral convictions of all 
peoples, and which is explicitly asserted in the Chris- 
tian teaching, is obviously in accord with the dic- 
tates of reason. Since all persons are of equal 
intrinsic worth, the maintenance of life is of equal 
intrinsic importance in all. Relatively to his fel- 
lows, every man is an end in himself. No man can 
reasonably say to his neighbors : " My life is supe- 
rior to yours, more sacred than yours, and your 
faculties and lives ought to be treated as mere means 
to my welfare." Nor can any man truthfully assert 
that there is anything in the designs of God, in his 
own nature, or in the nature of the earth that would 
justify him in maintaining that his right to the 
earth's material resources is superior to that of his 
fellows. On the one hand, then, we have the fact 
that all persons are of equal dignity and their lives 
of equal intrinsic importance; on the other hand, 
we see that all men stand on the same footing in re- 
lation to the common bounty of earth. It follows, 
therefore, that the right of access to the material 

1 " Summa Theologica," 2a. 2ae., q. 66, a. 7. 

2 Ibid., a. 2. 3 Politics," Book II, ch. V. 



means of living is as important and as valid in one 
man as in another. The man who is not in himself 
in extreme need cannot rightfully debar his perish- 
ing fellow man from the goods that are indispen- 
sable to the preservation of life. 

What becomes, according to this doctrine, of the 
right of private property, and of the recognized 
titles thereto, such as occupation, inheritance, labor, 
acquisition by contract, etc. ? Suppose the starving 
man wishes to take some of the bread that the hon- 
est mechanic has bought with his hard earned wages ! 
The latter may meet the man in distress with the 
statement : " Yes, I concede that you have by nature, 
by the fact that you are a human being, the right to 
acquire and use property and, in general, to live 
upon the fruits of the earth ; but my purchase has 
given me a particular claim to this particular bread, 
a specific and precise right against which your 
generic and vague right cannot prevail." The 
answer to this contention is simple. All the titles 
of private ownership are merely reasons or causes 
why a person can validly lay claim to a particular 
piece or article of private property. They show 
why the good in question belongs to the present 
claimant rather than to any other owner; but they 
do not prove the validity of private property as an 
institution. Private ownership of the earth's re- 
sources is right and reasonable not for its own sake 
which would be absurd but because it enables 
men to supply their wants more satisfactorily than 
would be possible in a regime of common property. 
Human needs constitute the primary title both of 



common and of private ownership. Private prop- 
erty is morally legitimate because it is the method 
that best enables man to realize his natural right to 
use the gifts of material nature for the development 
of his personality. It is, therefore, merely a means, 
and its scope is determined and limited by the end 
which it promotes, and which is its sole justification. 
The private right of any and every individual must 
be interpreted consistently with the common rights 
of all. When a private owner encroaches upon the 
latter he cannot justify his conduct by an appeal to 
the authority of his private right ; for this is a mere 
means to the right of use, and his right of use ceases 
where the like right of his neighbor begins. Hence 
a man's right to a superfluous loaf which is his by 
a title of private ownership does not absolve him 
from the crime of injustice when he withholds it 
from his starving fellow man. In acting thus he 
treats a trifling want of his own, namely, the desire 
to continue in possession of that loaf, as a thing of 
greater worth than his neighbor's life. He uses the 
common bounty of nature to satisfy an unimportant 
want at the expense of an essential want in a being 
whose life is as sacred and as valuable as his own. 
As this use of goods is unreasonable, so is the means 
by which it is accomplished, namely, an undue ex- 
tension and unwarranted interpretation of the right 
of private property. 

So much for the right to subsistence, to a bare 
livelihood. By a decent livelihood is meant that 
amount of the necessities and comforts of life that is 
in keeping with the dignity of a human being. It 



has no precise relation to the conventional standard 
of living that may prevail within any social or 
industrial class, but describes rather that minimum 
of conditions which the average person of a given 
age or sex must enjoy in order to live as a human 
being should live. It means, in short, that smallest 
amount of subsistence goods which is reasonable, 
becoming, appropriate to the dignity of a person. 
The content of this right will be stated in detail 
hereafter; at present let us say that if a man is to 
live a becoming life he must have the means, not 
merely to secure himself against death by starvation 
and exposure, but to maintain himself in a reason- 
able degree of comfort. He is to live as a man, 
not as an animal. He must have food, clothing and 
shelter. He must have opportunity to develop 
within reasonable limits all his faculties, physical, 
intellectual, moral and spiritual. The rational 
ground of this right is the same as that of the right 
to subsistence. It is the dignity and essential needs 
of the person. Those means and opportunities that 
have just been described as a decent livelihood are 
the minimum conditions of right and reasonable liv- 
ing, since without them man cannot attain to that 
exercise of his faculties and that development of his 
personality that makes his life worthy of a human 
being. When he is compelled to live on less than 
this minimum he is treated as somewhat less than a 
man. If it be asked, What proof can be given that 
a person really possesses this right to a decent live- 
lihood? the answer must be that proof in the strict 
sense is impossible. If it is not self-evident, none 



of man's natural rights is self-evident, and the dig- 
nity of personality is a delusion. All that a de- 
fender of any of these rights can do is to offer what 
Mill called " considerations which induce the mind 
to accept." The only argument that can be adduced 
for the right to live is that the sacredness of person- 
ality is violated when one man uses the life of 
another as a mere means to his own welfare. Sim- 
ilarly a man's dignity is outraged when he is de- 
prived of the opportunity to live a reasonable life, 
in order that some other man or men may enjoy the 
superfluities of life. A decent livelihood is just as 
truly an essential need of man, is just as absolutely 
demanded by his intrinsic dignity, as subsistence, or 
security of life and limb. In all these rights the 
vital and ultimate consideration is the intrinsic worth 
of the person. If this be ignored, if the principle 
that every man is an end in himself be rejected in 
the case of the claim to a decent livelihood, it can 
logically be ignored where life itself is at stake; for 
the difference between these rights and between the 
needs to which they respond is one of degree not of 
kind. Now, since a reasonable life and the reason- 
able development of personality are of equal intrin- 
sic importance in all human beings, the fruits of the 
earth, the common heritage, ought to be distributed 
in such a way that this end will be realized. Con- 
sequently when any person is hindered from obtain- 
ing access on reasonable terms to this minimum of 
material goods his dignity and rights are violated, 
and some other man or men, or some social insti- 
tution, has committed an act of injustice. 



Why content ourselves, it may be asked, with the 
assertion that men have equal rights merely to a 
decent livelihood? Since the earth was created for 
all, and since men are equal in personal dignity, have 
they not a natural right to equal amounts of the 
products of the earth? The first answer to these 
questions consists in an appeal to that very consid- 
eration of equal justice which, superficially regarded, 
seems to demand an equal division. Although men 
are equal in personal dignity, they are unequal in 
their individual powers and needs. Equal generi- 
cally, they are unequal individually. The quantity 
that would constitute a decent livelihood, or any 
other given level of living, for one man, would mean 
now more and now less than this level in the case of 
other men. So that even if the ideal of distributive 
justice were that social condition in which all men 
would have the requisites of precisely equal degrees 
of life and development, the quantity necessary for 
this purpose would vary according to the varying 
constitutions and peculiarities of the individuals. 
All that any man could justly demand would be the 
amount that made this degree of life possible for 
him. With regard to their content, therefore, the 
equality of rights is proportional not arithmetical. 

Another objection to the method of absolute 
equality in distribution arises out of the principle of 
productivity. The conviction is well-nigh universal 
that a man has a right to all that he produces. Any 
one not in extreme need who seizes the results of 
another's labor is everywhere regarded as a robber 
or a thief. And this judgment seems to be entirely 



correct. Certainly it is true of those cases in which 
the producer, using materials which are his by some 
valid title of ownership, turns out a product unas- 
sisted. Upon this product his, and only his, per- 
sonality is impressed, and it is difficult to see on what 
ground, save that of dire need, any portion of it can 
be claimed by any one else. The same principle 
would seem to hold in a lesser degree with regard to 
the joint product of a number of associated workers 
whose productive contributions have been unequal. 
Those who have produced most are, it would seem, 
entitled to the largest share of the product. It is 
not necessary, nor even proper, that they should be 
awarded in full proportion to their productivity 
for the reasonable needs and the efforts or sacrifices 
of the other workers constitute superior titles but 
they ought to receive something more than the less 
efficient contributors. Mr. John A. Hobson says 
that society must, as a matter of expediency, recog- 
nize in its members some kind of right to " all that 
portion of a product necessary to evoke the effort 
to produce it." x It is true that society will do well 
to pay exceptional rewards in order to obtain excep- 
tional services, but this necessity under which society 
labors does not of itself confer upon the doers of 
such services a right to unusual remuneration, any 
more than the conditions which compel a weaker 
nation to pay tribute to a stronger create a right in 
the latter to receive and retain such payments. 
Social expediency is frequently nothing more than 
forced toleration of something essentially evil. In- 
1 " The Social Problem," pp. 105, 106. 



dependency, however, of the attitude of society, 
superior productive power does seem to give rise to 
some sort of title to superior rewards, and therefore 
to refute the claims of arithmetical equality. 

But if man's needs constitute the primary and 
most urgent title of ownership, and should be taken 
as the sole rule of distribution up to the point where 
all men are provided with a decent livelihood, why 
not apply the same principle to all the needs that 
clamor for satisfaction and all the goods that are to 
be distributed ? Since men are of equal worth, does 
not ideal justice require that they should be enabled 
to supply the totality of their needs in equal degrees? 
Is it just that one man smoke cigars, while his 
neighbor, with the same human nature and the same 
tastes, is compelled to content himself with cheap 
tobacco and a clay pipe? One answer to these 
questions is found in the claims of the principle of 
productivity as outlined in the preceding paragraph. 
The man who produces more wealth or other forms 
of social utility than his fellow producers acquires 
some kind of right to a greater reward, independ- 
ently of the extent or intensity of his needs. Again, 
some of the producers make greater efforts and 
greater sacrifices than others; and a large part of 
the world's productive resources is already held by 
legitimate titles of private ownership, such as occu- 
pation, inheritance and contract. Superior sacri- 
fices undergone in the production of social utilities 
create a claim to superior remuneration; and the 
recognized titles of private ownership, when not 
extended beyond reasonable limits, are valid because 



they are in accordance with deep and universal 
human needs. They confer upon their holders some 
right to the fruits of the productive goods thus 
owned. Finally, the needs that remain after a de- 
cent livelihood has been obtained by all, ought, as a 
matter of social welfare and of concrete justice, to 
be satisfied unequally, inasmuch as men who can 
make a good use of the non-essential goods ought to 
obtain more of them than men who are incapable of 
any socially useful work. All of these consider- 
ations of productivity, sacrifice, existing private 
property, and capacity for public service, modify the 
claims of the principle of needs, and have to be 
taken into account in formulating a completely just 
system of distribution. 1 

It does not follow, however, that the man who 
has no private productive property, and whose 
efficiency and sacrifices in production are only ordi- 
nary, will never have a right to more than the 
minimum that constitutes a decent livelihood. If 
this were true the just wage and the Living Wage 
would mean the same thing for the great majority, 
and only the few would have a right to the means of 
progressing beyond the bare essentials of a reason- 
able existence. But to set forth the requirements 
of full and exact justice in the distribution of goods 
is happily not the object of this book. It is con- 
cerned only with the minimum that will satisfy the 
claims of right ; hence the present contention is 

1 A very interesting and penetrating discussion of the dif- 
ferent canons of distribution is found in Willoughby's 
" Social Justice," pp. 107-215. 



merely that a person has a right to at least a decent 
livelihood. It has been said above that this is a 
right of access to the appropriate goods " on reason- 
able terms." This phrase suggests the limitations 
of the right. It is not of such a pressing nature as 
the right to subsistence, and therefore does not jus- 
tify the taking of private property, even when there 
is no other available means of securing its realiza- 
tion. It is, moreover, limited by the actual condi- 
tions of production and distribution. Subsistence 
goods are not as a rule provided by nature in the 
precise forms suitable to human use. The raw 
material of living is present in abundance, but the 
finished consumption goods must be furnished by 
labor. They cannot be obtained by a simple stretch- 
ing forth of one's hand. " In the sweat of thy face 
thou shalt eat thy bread," is the great law of life 
which in some form is binding upon all. It must be 
obeyed, up to the limit of reasonable exertion, by all 
who would make good their claims to a decent live- 
lihood. As all should be enabled to realize the 
right, so all should fulfil the conditions upon which it 
depends. On the other hand, the concrete existence 
of the right in all supposes that the total amount of 
goods to be distributed is sufficiently large to afford 
a decent livelihood for all. Where both of these 
conditions are realized the individual's right will be 
valid in general against the society of which he 
forms a part ; for, to quote the words of Prince 
Liechtenstein of Austria : " Labor is not merely a 
matter of the private order ; it is a kind of function 
delegated by society to each member of the body 



politic. The peasant who cultivates his field, the 
artisan who works in a manufactory, are, so far as 
society is concerned, functionaries, just as much as 
the government clerk in his office, or the soldier on 
the field of battle. Industrial labor creates, like 
every other function, a series of reciprocal obliga- 
tions between the society which provides it anol the 
worker who executes it." * The right holds in par- 
ticular against the person or the industrial or social 
institution to whom society has transferred the func- 
tion of distribution, and on whom the actual rela- 
tions of men and the practical harmonizing and just 
interpretation of the natural rights of all, dictate 
that the obligation should rest. 

1 Quoted in Lilly's " First Principles in Politics," pp. 101, 




Historical sketch of opinion regarding a Living Wage. 
The maintenance of industrial efficiency : theory not fully 
convincing, and it ignores the laborer's personal dignity. 
The theory of an equivalent for expended energy is incon- 
clusive. The principle of just price demands equality of 
gain for the two exchangers, and a corresponding formu- 
lation of values and prices. In the opinion of the School- 
men, this was best accomplished through the medium of the 
social estimate. Upon this doctrine of just price some 
writers try to base the right to a Living Wage. Criticism 
of the doctrine in its theoretical and practical aspects, and 
conclusion it cannot serve as a foundation for this right. 
Some remarks on the general validity of the doctrine of 
just price. The theory that the laborer's right to a Living 
Wage is merely the concrete form of his right to a decent 
livelihood. The former right holds against the members 
of the community in which the laborer lives, notwithstand- 
ing the complexity of modern industry and current exag- 
geration of the right of private ownership. A truer view 
prevailed in medieval society; and occasionally finds ex- 
pression to-day. The wage-rights of women and children. 

It is the purpose of this chapter to show that the 
workingman's right to a decent livelihood is, in the 
present economic and political organization of 
society, the right to a Living Wage. As a pre- 


liminary to the formal argument, a brief review will 
be made of the attitude taken toward the doctrine 
by important thinkers. As we have already seen, 
the Fathers of the Church and the medieval theo- 
logians believed that every human being has an 
imperishable right to a livelihood from the common 
bounty of nature. And the medieval teaching went 
further. The principle that the laborer should re- 
ceive just wages was virtually contained in the can- 
onist doctrine of just price. The theologians and 
canonists held that every commodity had a certain 
fair valuation, or just price, which was independent 
of the arbitrary and fortuitous valuation resulting 
from the higgling of the market. 1 The just price in 

1 The somewhat puzzling doctrine of "just price" is not 
always understood by either its critics or its defenders. 
The former sometimes assert that it was based on an 
incorrect analysis of the phenomena that give rise to com- 
mercial values, individual and social. This is a complete 
misconception; for the doctrine in question was not an 
attempt to explain the actual, but to describe the ideal. 
Comparisons instituted between it and modern theories of 
value are, therefore, entirely irrelevant. A theory of value 
is a scientific explanation of the ultimate causes of the 
values that prevail or tend to prevail in a regime of free 
contract. Now the medieval writers concerned themselves 
very little with this question : First, because values and 
prices were in their time fixed for the most part by law or 
by custom ; and, second, because their main purpose was to 
lay down rules for knowing the price at which a thing ought 
to sell, not to tell the price at which it would sell. Even if 
they had held, as some modern writers have asserted, that 
the just price of a commodity was something strictly in- 
trinsic a belief that cannot be correctly attributed to any 
one of them their teaching would not conflict with eco- 
nomic theories of value. (Cf. Cunningham, "Western 
Civilization," vol. ii, pp. 78-80.) The doctrine of just price 
may sometimes have been associated with incorrect views 
of industrial life, but all competent authorities agree that it 
was a fairly sound attempt to define the equities of medi- 



any market being determined by the appraisement of 
the general public, it was said to be measured by the 
" communis aestimatio." To ascertain the just price 
of any article, account had to be taken of its general 
utility, scarcity and cost of production. The last 
element, which in the Middle Ages was chiefly rep- 
resented by labor expenditure, was regarded as the 
most important. When, therefore, the medieval 
theologians and canonists taught that a just price 
should be paid for every commodity, and that its 
chief determinant was labor-cost, they virtually in- 
sisted that the laborer should be paid just wages. 1 

To the searcher for explicit and precise rules for 
determining what is a fair remuneration for labor, 
the medieval writers are, indeed, disappointing. St. 
Thomas Aquinas says that, as justice demands that 

eval exchanges, and that it was tolerably successful in 

On the other hand over-zealous apologists of the doc- 
trine have tried to show that the " communis aestimatio," 
which was held to be the proximate criterion of just price, 
is essentially the same as that complex of social forces that 
fixes present market prices, and that some modern writers 
have called " the social estimate." The resemblance is only 
of name. The common estimate of which the canonists 
spoke was a conscious social judgment that fixed prices 
beforehand, and was expressed chiefly in custom, while the 
social estimate of to-day is in reality an unconscious re- 
sultant of the higgling of the market, and finds expression 
only in market price. 

For a complete exposition of the doctrine of just price, 
with abundant citations and references, see : " L'Idee du 
juste prix," by Henri Gamier; and " Allgemeine Grund- 
lagen der Nationaloekonomie," ch. XV, by Julius Costa- 
Rosetti. Brants in the work already cited, chap. V and p. 
193 ; Ashley in " Economic History," vol. i, p. 134, sq. ; and 
Cunningham in " Growth of English Industry," vol. i, p. 
323, sq., are also quite satisfactory. 

1 Cf. Brants, op. cit, pp. 107-116. 




a fair price be paid for a material commodity, so it 
demands that a fair price should be given for human 
labor. 1 Other writers likewise content themselves 
with the general declaration that wages should be in 
accordance with justice. Their failure to be more 
specific seems to be explained by the industrial con- 
ditions of the time. During the greater part of .the 
Middle Ages there was, properly speaking, no such 
thing as a wage system; for there was no class of 
laborers, either in town or country, depending solely 
on employers to whom they sold their labor. 2 The 
master craftsmen in the towns and the men who 
tilled the soil on their own account, received just 
wages if they received a just price for their products. 
Even after the rise of a distinct laboring class 
that is, men who could never hope to become master 
craftsmen, or men who spent the greater part of 
their time in the service of the lords of the domain 
the question of just wages was not of supreme 
importance. In town industries the journeymen 
were quite commonly fed and lodged by their em- 
ployers ; 3 the relations between masters and jour- 
neymen were akin to those existing between father 
and sons ; 4 and between the average earnings of the 
two classes there was not a great difference. 5 Agri- 

1 " Summa Theologica," la. 2ae., q. 144, a.i. 

2 Gibbins, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 101 ; Ashley, op. cit., vol. ii, 
p. 101 ; Leyasseur, " Histoire des classes ouvrieres avant 
1789," vol. i, p. 598. 

3 Levasseur, pp. cit., vol. i, p. 455 ; Brants, op. cit, p. 
123 ; Martin-Sainte-Leon, " Histoire des corporations des 
metiers," p. 155. 

4 Ashley, op. cit, vol. ii, p. 103. 

5 Levasseur, op. cit, vol. i, p. 313 ; Brants, op. cit., p. 123. 



cultural laborers usually had possession of a piece of 
ground, to the cultivation of which they devoted 
their leisure time, and from which they obtained 
part of their sustenance. 1 These conditions were 
not, indeed, universal, nor did they always secure for 
the laborer a reasonable living, but they explain suf- 
ficiently the failure of medieval writers to treat 
specifically the question of just wages. 

Later on, when the wage-earning class assumed 
greater proportions, we find the ethics of their re- 
muneration explicitly discussed by theological writ- 
ers. Molina, De Lugo, and Bonacina, writing 
about the beginning of the seventeenth century, de- 
clare that in general that wage is just which is cus- 
tomary for a given service in a given place. 2 The 
two first mentioned say that a wage insufficient for 
the subsistence of some laborers, will nevertheless 
be fair when there are many who willingly sell their 
services for that amount. We are told that numer- 
ous workers do accept this lower wage, either be- 
cause they have other sources of income, or because 
they can live more cheaply than fellow members of 
their own class. From the context it would seem 
that both Molina and De Lugo assume that the 
laborer has a right to a living from his toil, and that 
their chief concern in the passages cited is with cases 
in which the circumstances are exceptional. 3 At 

1 Gibbins, op. cit., p. in. 

2 Molina, " De Contractibus," disp. 506, nos. 2, 3, 4; De 
Lugo, " De Jure et Justitia," disp. 29, no. 62 ; Bonacina, 
" De Contractibus," disp. 3, q. 7. 

3 Cf . Vermeersch, " Questiones de Justitia," pp. 572, 573 ; 
Pettier, " De Jure et Justitia," pp. 234-241. 



any rate, they do not discuss the question of a Liv- 
ing Wage adequately and in all its relations. The 
only general standard of just remuneration that they 
lay down is custom. Whether the customary wages 
of those days complied with the requirements of a 
Living Wage, as then understood, is not easily deter- 
mined. However, since wages remained stable 
during long periods of time, and since the direct 
influence of religious and moral teaching on eco- 
nomic life was very considerable much greater 
than at present it may well be that the essentials 
of a reasonable wage were fairly well realized. 

From the time of the writers just mentioned down 
to the year 1891, the theological and canonist doc- 
trine on the ethics of wages seems to have under- 
gone no important development. The old phrases 
about customary wages and just wages are con- 
stantly recurring. A curious instance of this 
unprogressiveness is found in the pages of the can- 
onist, Reiffenstuel, one of the ablest authorities on 
the legislation of the Church. He maintained that 
it was wrong for an employer to pay a laborer less 
than was usual in similar circumstances, but that 
when the usual wage was paid all obligations of 
justice were satisfied, even though it did not suffice 
for a livelihood. 1 According to this interpretation, 
the " customary wages " of the medieval theologians 
and canonists become " current wages," and the 
" common estimate " of just wages becomes the 
wages that men actually pay in the strife of com- 

1 " Jus Canonicum," lib. Ill, Decretal., tit. XVIII, nos. 

4 6 


petitive bargaining. What was in the minds of the 
Schoolmen a conscious moral judgment is thus con- 
verted into an unconscious resultant of men's efforts 
to buy cheap and sell dear. The author's principle 
would justify starvation wages if these were com- 
mon to a whole class. 

In the year 1891, the late Pope Leo XIII formu- 
lated the doctrine of a minimum Living Wage in his 
celebrated encyclical, " Rerum Novarum," better 
known by the title, " On the Condition of Labor." 
Its most important passages relative to the present 
matter are the following : 

" We now approach a subject of very great im- 
portance, and one on which if extremes are to be 
avoided right ideas are absolutely necessary. 
Wages, we are told, are fixed by free consent, and 
therefore the employer, when he has paid what was 
agreed upon, has done his part and is not called upon 
for anything further. The only way, it is said, in 
which injustice could happen would be if the master 
refused to pay the whole of the wages, or the work- 
man would not complete the work undertaken ; when 
this happens the State should intervene to see that 
each obtains his own, but not under any other cir- 

" This mode of reasoning is by no means convinc- 
ing to a fair minded man, for there are important 
considerations which it leaves out of view altogether. 
To labor is to exert one's self for the sake of pro- 
curing what is necessary for the purpose of life, 
and most of all for self-preservation. ' In the sweat 
of thy brow thou shalt eat bread.' Therefore, a 



man's labor has two notes or characters. First of 
all, it is personal; for the exertion of individual 
power belongs to the individual who puts it forth, 
employing his power for the personal profit for 
which it was given. Secondly, man's labor is neces- 
sary; for without the results of labor a man cannot 
live ; and self-conservation is a law of nature which 
it is wrong to disobey. Now if we were to consider 
labor merely in so far as it is personal, doubtless it 
would be within the workman's right to accept any 
rate of wages whatever ; for in the same way as he 
is free to work or not, so he is free to accept a small 
remuneration or none at all. But this is a mere 
abstract supposition; the labor of the workman is 
not only his personal attribute, but is necessary ; and 
this makes all the difference. The preservation of 
life is the bounden duty of each and all, and to fail 
therein is a crime. It follows that each one has a 
right to procure what is required in order to live; 
and the poor can procure it in no other way than 
by work and wages. 

" Let it be granted, then, that as a rule workman 
and employer should make agreements, and in par- 
ticular should freely agree as to wages ; neverthe- 
less, there is a dictate of nature more imperious and 
more ancient than any bargain between man and 
man, that the remuneration must be enough to sup- 
port the wage earner in reasonable and frugal com- 
fort. If through necessity, or fear of a worse evil, 
the workman accepts harder conditions because an 
employer or contractor will give him no better, he is 
the victim of fraud and injustice." 



Pope Leo XIII was not, indeed, the first Catholic 
authority to proclaim this principle of a Living 
Wage. It had already been more or less explicitly 
laid down and defended by Ketteler in Germany, 
Vogelsang in Austria, de Pascal in France, Pettier 
in Belgium, and Manning in England. 1 It was the 
principle of social justice that was clearest and most 
definite in the consciousness of those numerous 
groups of Catholic thinkers and agitators who dur- 
ing the preceding quarter of a century had been 
seeking a remedy for the industrial ills of modern 
Europe. It was at least a partial application to ex- 
isting economic conditions and institutions of the 
traditional theological and canonist doctrine of just 
price. Indeed, it was the activity of this Catholic 
social movement that, more perhaps than all other 
influences together, led the late Pontiff to issue the 
encyclical, " On the Condition of Labor." In a 
conversation with the Swiss social reformer, Gas- 
pard Decurtins, Pope Leo referred to the father of 
the movement, Archbishop Ketteler, as his " great 
forerunner." Nevertheless, it was his encyclical 
that converted the Living Wage doctrine from an 
implicit into an explicit principle of Catholic ethics.- 

Owing to the individualistic tendencies of Prot- 
estantism, its many forms, and the nature of its 
organization, the Protestant teaching on an ethical 
standard of wages as against the standard of un- 
limited bargaining, is less pronounced and less uni- 
form than that of the Catholic church. It is, there- 
fore, much more difficult of adequate presentation 

1 Cf . Nitti, " Catholic Socialism," passim. 


in a brief survey. Attention may, however, be 
called to one or two important facts. No Protes- 
tant denomination has ever signified its approval of 
the principle of unlimited bargaining, either formally 
or through the expressions of its leading representa- 
tives. On the contrary, numerous and able repre- 
sentatives of the leading denominations have fre- 
quently protested against the doctrine, and insisted 
that to take advantage under the guise of a free 
contract of the necessities of the laborer is to violate 
the principles of Christianity. Chief among them 
are: Kingsley, Maurice, Hughes, and Headlam in 
England; Pastors Stocker and Todt in Germany; 
Gide and Waddington in France; and Bishop Pot- 
ter and Dr. Gladden in the United States. The first 
three groups of writers founded or identified them- 
selves with organizations for Christian social reform 
which have had a very large influence. 1 

In the program of social reconstruction, issued 
by the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ 
in America in 1919, the demand is made for a Liv- 
ing Wage enforced by the State, and it is declared 
that " this Living Wage should be made the first 
charge upon industry, before dividends are con- 

Prominent among those who defend the principle 
of a minimum wage on social grounds are Sidney 
and Beatrice Webb, and their line of argument is 
typical of that large class of writers who habitually 
regard the rights and welfare of the individual from 

1 Cf. Nitti, op. cit, pp. 85-99; and Rae, "Contemporary 
Socialism," pp. 220-242. 



the viewpoint of society. 1 They maintain that the 
State ought to enforce a national minimum of wages 
which would provide the laborer with " the food, 
clothing and shelter physiologically necessary, ac- 
cording to national habit and custom, to prevent 
bodily deterioration." By this means the commu- 
nity would rid itself of the industrial evil called 
" parasitism," that is, the existence of trades or 
businesses in which the wages paid are too low to 
maintain the workers in industrial efficiency, and to 
enable them to reproduce and rear a sufficient num- 
ber to take their places. These industries take from 
the nation's capital stock of character, intelligence 
and energy more than they give back, and therefore 
steadily degrade the character and industrial ef- 
ficiency of the whole people. Hence, as a matter 
of simple protection to the national life, both present 
and future, this practice ought to be prohibited, and 
all workers ought to be given, through appropriate 
legal measures, sufficient remuneration to maintain 
their productive power. 

Admitting the premises, this conclusion is obvi- 
ously correct, but it is only partially satisfactory to 
anyone who regards the laborer primarily as a being 
endowed with a personality and rights of his own. 
Like every other person, he exists primarily for him- 
self, not for society; and he has rights that are 
derived from his own essential and intrinsic worth, 
and whose primary end is his own welfare. Society 
exists for the individual, not the individual for 
society, and when there is question of fundamental 

1 See "Industrial Democracy," ist edition, pp. 766-784. 


rights and interests the good of the individual, that 
is, of all the individuals, should be the supreme con- 
sideration. Social welfare when taken as an ideal 
of effort entirely apart from the welfare of the par- 
ticular individuals of whom society is composed, is 
either an empty abstraction or, concretely, the wel- 
fare of a portion only of its members the strong- 
est, or most efficient, or most intelligent. Individual 
rights ought, indeed, to be interpreted consistently 
with the legitimate interests of society, but this is 
only another way of saying that no person's rights 
should be extended so far as to violate the rights of 
other persons; for the vital fact about injury to 
society is always that some wrong is done to a group 
of human beings. And, despite the alleged evils of 
" parasitism," it is quite conceivable that in some 
contingencies social utility would be promoted by 
paying some of the least efficient workers a wage in- 
sufficient to repair expended energy or to bring out 
their highest productive effort. The nation, like 
the individual employer, might find it profitable to 
wear out quickly a portion of its productive power. 
The difference between the product of some laborers 
at bare subsistence wages and at a wage adequate to 
replace their outlay of energy and evoke their fullest 
productivity, might not equal the difference in re- 
muneration. In such cases the attempt to obtain 
the highest industrial efficiency would be economi- 
cally unprofitable. No doubt the advocates of the 
view here criticized are too humane to conclude that 
society is justified in seeking its own utility at the 
cost of inhumanity to any section of its members. 


They would probably insist that this course would 
in the long run be productive of more harm than 
good, owing to the resulting moral deterioration. 
With this contention the defender of natural rights 
would agree, since he holds that true and permanent 
social utility, economic, moral and spiritual, can be 
secured only by a general observance of the moral 
law and the law of rights as deduced from the 
essential nature of man ; but he would insist that the 
doctrine which derives the laborer's claim to a decent 
livelihood from considerations of social utility is not 
only unsound in theory but extremely dangerous in 
practice. Once this view becomes general, the con- 
dition of the " sweated classes " will be even more 
hopeless than it is to-day; for only the few are 
capable of perceiving, or anxious to secure, what 
will be beneficial to society " in the long run." The 
many will see only the apparent social utility of 
cheap goods and cheap services. 

The Rev. Charles Antoine, S. J., declares that 
there ought to be an objective equivalence between 
the labor performed and the wage received. 1 That 
is to say, the laborer's remuneration must be suffi- 
cient to replace the energy that he has put forth in 
the service of his employer, and this as a matter not 
of social welfare but of individual rights. While 
this formula has a certain show of exact, rigorous 
justice, it can be interpreted and applied in such a 
way that the " equivalent " compensation will be less 
than a Living Wage. For the energy expended by 
the laborer to-day is determined by and equivalent 

1 " Cours d'economie sociale," p. 601. 


to the wage that he received yesterday. His wage 
may, indeed, be so far reduced that it will not re- 
place the current day's output of energy, but this 
discrepancy will exist only during the transition 
from the higher to the lower rate. At the lower 
level a new equivalence will be established between 
pay received and energy expended. The subsistence 
received by the men and women employed in sweat 
shops does not repair a large amount of energy, but, 
on the hypothesis that they continue at work, it 
replaces all that they actually expend. The rule 
that Father Antoine proposes cannot be made the 
basis of a change for the better, since it is even now 
in force throughout the world of industry. In fact, 
it would work very well side by side with " the iron 
law of wages." 

Other writers derive the right to a Living Wage 
from the principle of just price. Following the 
Schoolmen, they maintain that for every commodity, 
whether goods or labor, that men buy and sell, 
there is a price that is just and fair. 1 It is the price 
at which the things exchanged will be equal. Now 
the equality that may exist between economic goods 
can be nothing else but an equality of utility. 2 And 
this equality is to be understood, not absolutely, in 
the sense that both exchangers will derive the same 
amount of satisfaction from the goods received, but 
relatively to the inconvenience that each suffers by 

( * Cf . Rev. A. Vermeersch, S. J., " Quaestiones de Jus- 
titia," theses, 25, 28, 29. 

2 Cf . Victor Brants, " Les theories economiques aux xiiie 
et xive siecles," p. 193, sq. 



depriving himself of the good transferred. 1 It was 
as obvious to the Schoolmen as it is to us, that in 
every economic exchange both parties make a gain, 
or think they do otherwise the transaction could 
never take place. The utility that each obtains 
from the thing received is greater than he would 
have enjoyed by continuing in possession of the 
thing parted with. Now, justice requires that these 
net gains should be the same for both sides. Such 
is the precise and commonly accepted meaning of the 
scholastic formula : " In an onerous contract the two 
parties should be benefited equally." It is held to 
be a deduction from the personal equality of all 
human beings. Men have equal rights, not only to 
subsist upon and acquire the fruits of the earth, but 
to profit by the exchange of such goods as they 
have legitimately acquired. 2 

Since the price of goods is merely their value ex- 
pressed in terms of money, their value must always 
be so assessed and determined that the price will be 
just that both parties will obtain the same quan- 
tity of net advantage. Understood in this sense, the 
value of things is primarily an ethical attribute. It 
is measured and formulated with reference, not 
merely to economic facts, but to this objective moral 
standard of equality of gain. 3 If the gains result- 

1 Cf. St. Thomas, " Summa Theologica," 2a. 2ae., q. 77, 
a. i. 

2 Cf. Rev. A. Castelein, S. J., " Philosophia Moralis et 
Socialis," p. 208. 

3 While criticizing the scholastic doctrine of just price, on 
the ground that, as he incorrectly assumes, it took no ac- 
count of the factor of human desire, M. Gabriel Tarde 
adopts in so many words the scholastic formula of contrac- 



ing from the exchange of one coat for two pairs of 
shoes are unequal the goods have not been rightly 
valued, and the contract is not in accordance with 
ideal justice. In a word, justice is not realized by 
exchanging commodities at any valuation that the 
contracting parties see fit to put upon them, nor at 
any other valuation whatever, except the one that is 
just, the just price. 

Who is to ascertain and fix this just value of 
things in actual transactions ? Not those who make 
the exchange, for they are liable to form prejudiced 
estimates, and the stronger bargainer will be tempted 
to use his power at the expense of the weaker. In 
the opinion of the Schoolmen, the valuation could be 
most reasonably and justly determined by the com- 
munity. They admitted, indeed, that the just price 
of goods was incapable of exact determination, and 
consisted in a " certain estimate " or approximation 
(" quadam aestimatione "). Hence, they said, it is 
susceptible of three grades, lowest, medium and 
highest, all of which are legitimate as rules of prac- 
tical justice. This method of social appraisal 
seemed to them to be a fairly satisfactory device, 
inasmuch as it reduced the influence of the individ- 
ual bias and individual selfishness (against which 
the whole doctrine of just price was directed) to a 
minimum. Nor was the community to act arbitra- 
rily in arriving at its common estimate; it was 
morally bound to take into account certain objective 

tual justice. That price, he says, will be just, " qui don- 
nerait une satisfaction egale aux deux." " Psychologic 
economique," II, p. 44. 



factors, chiefly, the cost of production, the scarcity, 
and the general utility of the goods appraised. 
Thus formulated, the " social estimate " was always 
the proximate determinant of just price. _ 

Upon this doctrine the writers whom we are now 
considering base the laborer's right to a Living 
Wage, Their argument runs thus : the workingman 
has a right to a just price for his labor; the just 
valuation of any kind of labor is that formed by the 
common estimate, or social judgment, of what is 
reasonable ; now the social judgment declares that a 
man's wages ought never to be less than the equiva- 
lent of a decent livelihood; consequently, the just 
price of labor is never less than a Living Wage. 

The defenders of this view are careful to point out 
that the social estimate to which they refer is not the 
economic social estimate. The latter is determined 
solely by the movement of demand and supply, is 
produced unconsciously, by the " higgling of the 
market," and is always expressed in actual market 
prices. The ethical estimate is a deliberate pro- 
nouncement of the social judgment, made independ- 
ently of the price-determining action of competition. 
It declares the prices and wages that ought to exist, 
not those that do exist. In this sense the social 
estimate, we are told, maintains that when men are 
paid less than a Living Wage they are victims of 
injustice. 1 

1 For an explanation of the difference between the scho- 
lastic theory of just price and a modern theory of economic 
value, the reader is referred to the footnote on page 42; 
references to authorities on the former theory will also be 
found there. 



In considering the bearing of the doctrine of just 
price upon that of a Living Wage, we must dis- 
tinguish between its objective and subjective as- 
pects. Equality of gain for the two exchangers is 
the objective standard of ideal justice; while the 
subjective application of the abstract rule to the 
concrete facts of industry is found in the social esti- 
mate, which is assumed to be the best available 
expression of the requirements of practical justice. 
Now, our contention is that neither the ideal stand- 
ard nor the method of applying it affords a satis- 
factory logical basis for the Living Wage principle. 

The criterion of equal gains for the two parties to 
an economic exchange would seem, at first sight, 
to possess all the requisites of a correct rule of 
justice. Inasmuch as men are endowed with equal 
rights to acquire the resources of the earth, it seems 
reasonable to conclude that when two of them enter 
into a contract for the exchange of goods that 
they have lawfully acquired a contract in which 
neither intends to enact the role of a philanthropist, 
but both wish to gain as much as possible they 
have a right to equal quantities of gain. As we saw 
in the last chapter, equal rights to the earth do not, 
indeed, imply rights to equal amounts of it or its 
products ; but this is owing to the existence of other 
titles of ownership, such as superior needs, efforts 
and productivity, which modify the content of the 
primary and fundamental title. No such consid- 
erations stand in the way of men's rights to equal 
gains from the exchange of their goods. When we 
look deeper, however, we find that there are other 



and very good reasons for rejecting this standard of 
equal gains. In the first place, there is the difficulty 
of putting it into practice. No statement of a just 
price in terms of money can be formulated which 
will enable the two contracting parties to make equal 
gains in the case of any good that is frequently 
bought and sold. Different men may purchase the 
same article from the same merchant at the same 
rate, and yet the personal advantage will not be the 
same for all of them. 1 According to the theory that 
we are discussing, all the buyers ought to profit to 
the same extent, provided that the merchant's gains 
on all the transactions are equal. And the chances 
of inequality are increased when the purchasers deal 
with different sellers. The situation is the same 
when the commodity dealt in is human labor. It is 
morally impossible to appoint a rate of wages from 
which the employer and every employee will obtain 
the same amount of net utility. 

Not only is this standard impracticable (except 
by an approximation so broad as to render it super- 
fluous), but in a large proportion of cases it is un- 
sound theoretically. For example, the man who 
gives his last dime to a prosperous baker for a loaf 
of bread, gains far more by the transaction than 
does the baker. The profit made by the latter is 
very small, say, one cent, and represents the satis- 
faction of a very trifling want. The other party to 
the contract has stilled the keenest pangs of hunger, 
and possibly warded off imminent starvation. Any 

1 Cf. J. A. Hobson, " The Economics of Distribution," 
chap. I; Tarde, op. cit., pp. 10-22. 



other utility that he might have procured for his 
dime is, in comparison with the one that he really 
obtained, insignificant. Consequently, the utility of 
the bread to him, whether considered in itself or 
relatively to any other good that he might have got 
for his money, is much greater than the advantage 
accruing to the baker. And yet no one would assert 
that in the ordinary conditions of production ten 
cents is not a sufficiently large price for a loaf of 
bread. In accordance with a well known law of 
value, the utility of a good to an individual is always 
proportioned to the importance and intensity of the 
want that it satisfies ; hence the more dissimilar the 
material conditions of the exchangers, the more will 
the gain of the poorer exceed that of the richer. 
If the two are to gain equally the poorer man must 
pay a price that all fair-minded persons would re- 
gard as outrageously exorbitant. Only in contracts 
between persons whose incomes are substantially 
equal does the rule of equality or gains seem to 
,accord with our everyday conceptions of justice. 
When, for instance, a shoemaker gives a tailor a 
pair of shoes in return for a pair of trousers, their 
gains are about equal, since the wants supplied are 
nearly equal in importance. The inequality that we 
are discussing is even more striking and more fre- 
quent in labor contracts. No matter how low the 
wage, the laborer gains more than the employer. 
The man who works for seventy-five cents a day 
satisfies in some fashion his most important and 
intense wants. Compared with this result the pain- 
cost of the exertion that he puts forth is quite small. 



The net advantage that he derives from the contract 
is, therefore, very large ; whereas the employer's 
profit is a small amount of money which, in a great 
many cases, represents a few cigars or some equally 
secondary utility. According to the equal gain prin- 
ciple, the laborer is getting more than is just, al- 
though his remuneration is far below the limit of a 
Living Wage. As a general rule, the employer who 
has any considerable number of men on his pay roll 
does, indeed, obtain from the aggregate of his wage- 
contracts more utility a greater satisfaction of 
wants both intensively and extensively than any 
one of his employees, but his gain is less than the 
total gains of all of them; and in any one contract 
it is smaller than the advantage received by the 
other party, the laborer. 

As a matter of fact, the Schoolmen never made 
any consistent attempt to apply the principle of 
equality of gains to industrial contracts. When 
they declared that the community, or, more pre- 
cisely, those members of it whose reputation for 
fairness was highest, was the most competent 
agency to determine the concrete price that would 
safeguard equality between buyer and seller, they 
also declared, as we have seen above, that the 
decision of the community, the social estimate, ought 
to be based upon the general utility, the relative sup- 
ply, and the cost of production of the commodity. 
Now these are objective factors, but they are in no 
sense an expression or interpretation of the objec- 
tive standard of equality of gains. A price fixed in 
accordance with them would not always would 



never, perhaps enable both exchangers to obtain 
the same amount of profit. Hence the Schoolmen's 
working criterion of just price implies a complete 
setting aside of their ideal standard. Indeed, their 
insistence on the cost of production as one of the 
determinants of the just price of goods was a recog- 
nition of the principle of a Living Wage; for cost 
of production in medieval industry was labor cost, 
the just measure of which was the customary needs 
of the class performing the labor. " With the can- 
onists, this idea of class duties and class standard of 
comfort is either explicitly or implicitly referred to 
as final test in every question of distribution or 
exchange. Thus Langenstein who, after being 
vice-chancellor of the University of Paris, was called 
to teach at the New University of Vienne in 1384 
lays down that everyone can determine for himself 
the just price of the wares he may have to sell, by 
simply reckoning what he needs in order to suitably 
support himself in his rank of life." 1 Thus, the 
Schoolmen measured the just price by a Living 
Wage, instead of basing the latter upon the former. 
So much for the theoretical standard: the prac- 
tical criterion, the " social estimate," is unsatisfac- 
tory, either as a justification or as a measure of the 
Living Wage. To begin with, it is too vague. Does 
it describe the unanimous, or morally unanimous, 
judgment of the community what the older writ- 
ers called the " sensus communis " ? or, is it another 

1 Ashley, op. cit, II, p. 391; cf. Brants, op. cit, p. 119, 
where the text and reference are given ; and Jansen, 
" Geschichte des deutschen Volkes," I, p. 447. 



name for " public opinion " ? Does it mean custom? 
Possibly it refers to the deliberate judgment of a 
body of men chosen from the various classes, intel- 
lectual, industrial and religious, of the community. 
Let us see whether any of these social estimates will 
serve to-day as a working rule of industrial justice. 

The first of them undoubtedly sanctions the prin- 
ciple of a Living Wage. Our knowledge of the 
average man's moral beliefs entitles us to assume 
that he holds, at least in the abstract, that the laborer 
ought to have the means of living comfortably and 
decently. But concerning the amount of subsistence 
goods comprised in the idea of a decent livelihood, 
the " sensus communis " lacks definiteness. The 
best that it can give us is a compromise derived from a 
multitude of individual or class estimates. We have, 
however, no means of ascertaining the content of 
this compromise, or average estimate, and, even if 
we had, we cannot be certain that it would be in har- 
mony with reason and justice. In judging of the 
larger and more general questions of morality, the 
common convictions of mankind are sufficiently trust- 
worthy ; but in details its judgment is easily perverted 
by the influence of bad and long established custom. 

Second, that somewhat capricious form of the 
social estimate, called public opinion, is vitiated by 
defects similar to those just enumerated. Its ver- 
dict concerning the precise requisites of a Living 
Wage will necessarily be too general, and too diffi- 
cult of ascertainment. It is, moreover, essentially 
variable and therefore untrustworthy. Indeed, if 
we accept the press as its mouthpiece we must admit 



that it has not yet adequately declared in favor of 
even the principle of a Living Wage. 

In the third place, it is undoubtedly true that a 
fairly definite standard of industrial justice is found 
in custom; but it is not a reliable standard. The 
custom of our time approves of wages that are insuf- 
ficient to afford the conditions of a decent liveli- 
hood witness the remuneration of the " sweated " 
classes. As we have already seen, the canonist, 
ReifTenstuel, accepted custom as a criterion, and ar- 
rived at the conclusion that justice did not require a 
man's wages to be equivalent to a decent livelihood. 

Finally, the pronouncement of a carefully selected 
and representative committee would, it is probable, 
be sufficiently definite and trustworthy. If the social 
estimate, thus understood, declared that every la- 
borer ought to have a Living Wage, and defined 
what it meant by this phrase, its decision would 
probably satisfy all reasonable minds, and be the 
nearest approach to a correct estimate of a Living 
Wage that is practically attainable. The principles 
laid down and the wage awards made in 1918 and 
1919 by the National War Labor Board constitute 
a fairly satisfactory illustration. 

The theory which founds a Living Wage upon the 
principle of just price has been discussed at this 
length because the concepts and formulas under- 
lying it dominated the industrial theory and practice 
of Europe for centuries, and because they are still 
quite common in ethical literature. One after an- 
other the Schoolmen of the Middle Ages asserted 
and expounded the principle that goods and labor 



had a certain just price. And they were right; for 
when we admit that a commodity can be sold at an 
exorbitant price we tacitly assume that it has some 
other price which is not exorbitant, which is just. 
An action cannot be adjudged wrong except by ref- 
erence to some standard of right. The precise 
determination of that standard is another matter. 
The Schoolmen's theoretical formulation of it 
equality of benefit or gain for buyer and seller is 
undoubtedly a particular application of the general 
principle that, since men are by nature equal, justice 
regards them as essentially equal in relation to their 
property, and demands that whenever private prop- 
erty changes hands (except in the case of gifts) 
equality should be maintained between the thing 
parted with and the thing received in return. 
" Aequalitas rei ad rem," was the Scholastic phrase. 1 
According to this principle, property that has been 
unjustly taken away must be restored to the owner 
in its integral self or in its equivalent ; and, secondly, 
in free exchanges the thing received should be 
equivalent to the thing transferred. This general 
statement is correct, expresses, in fact, the very 
essence of abstract justice between man and man; 
but, as we have seen, " equality between the things 
exchanged " cannot consistently with distributive 
justice be translated into " equal gains for the ex- 
changers." 2 We have seen, too, that the Schoolmen 
never made any practical use of this theoretical 

1 See Costa-Rosetti, " Philosophia Moralis," thesis 107. 

2 In fact, it may be laid down as a general principle that 
the reciprocal gains ought to be unequal whenever, and to 
the extent that, such inequality will reasonably offset or 



interpretation of equality ; and we may be pardoned 
the wish that certain modern writers would discard, 
not only it, but certain kindred phrases and concepts 
that are equally ambiguous and misleading. A 
French economist, M. Charles Perin, has observed 
that many theological writers have hesitated to ac T 
cept the reasoning of Pope Leo's encyclical, accord- 
ing to which the minimum just wage is based upon 
the laborer's dignity as a person, and measured by 
his essential needs. 1 Apparently they dislike to part 
with traditional modes of expression, and so con- 
tinue to repeat the old formulas about the laborer's 
right to a remuneration that is the " worth," or 
" equivalent," or " value," of his labor. In so far 
as these statements are true, they are truisms ; in so 
far as they have any concrete, serviceable meaning 
they are not true. If, fpr example, the word value 
be taken in the sense of the actual economic, or mar- 
ket, value of labor, the statement in question be- 
comes equivalent to the assertion that the laborer is 
justly treated whenever he receives the wages that 
are assigned to him by supply and demand, even 
though these may lie on the borderland of starva- 
tion. If moral value is meant the statement is cor- 
rect, but not very illuminating, since it suggests no 
method of estimating the moral value of labor in 
terms of livelihood or wages. As to the practical 
interpretation of just price provided in the social 
estimate, it seems to have served very well for the 

correct previously existing inequality between the two 

1 " Premiers principes d'economie politique." 2d edition, 
PP. 389, 390- 



small communities and simple economic relations of 
the Middle Ages. 1 When masters and men lived 
together in a relationship " like unto that of fathers 
and sons " ; when the whole body of consumers and 
producers who were interested in arranging a scale 
of wages and prices was found within the limits of a 
small town ; when the classes of goods and services 
that were to be appraised were few in number and 
simple in character ; and when the standard of living 
was nearly uniform throughout the community in 
these circumstances the " communis aestimatio " of 
the just price of labor was apt to be more or less 
precise, and could be readily made manifest to all 
concerned. Moreover, the social estimate often be- 
came crystallized into custom. It was, therefore, 
not only definite and patent, but more or less con- 
stant during long periods of time. And, since it 
was formed under the immediate and powerful in- 
fluence or moral and religious teaching, it was in 
fairly close conformity with ethical ideals. 2 As a 
working rule of fair dealing, it is even to-day valid 
in principle; for it implies the essence of the arbi- 
tration idea, a disinterested body of judges; but it- 
stands in need of a new and more precise formula- 
tion. Its limitations, too, must be kept in mind: 
it is not an absolute but a subjective expression of 
right ; and it must, as the Schoolmen insisted, always 
take account of certain objective factors, among 
which are man's natural rights to life, liberty, and 
a becoming amount of the comforts of life. 

1 Cf. Ashley, " Economic History," I, p. 138. 

2 Cf. Ashley, op. cit., II, 388. 


Finally, we come to the doctrine which deduces 
the laborer's right to a Living Wage from his per- 
sonal dignity and his right to a decent livelihood. 1 
It has been shown in the last chapter that, on ac- 
count of his sacredness as a person, every member 
of a community has an abstract right to a decent 
livelihood, and that this right becomes concrete and 
actual when the material goods controlled by the 
community are sufficient to provide such a livelihood 
for all, and when the individual performs a reason- 
able amount of useful labor. It is assumed that the 
first condition is verified; and it is maintained that 
the second is fulfilled by the man who labors for 
hire during a working day of normal length. His 
general right to as much of the earth's fruits as will 
furnish a decent livelihood is clear; the correlative 
obligation of his fellow members of the community 
to appropriate and use the common bounty of nature 
consistently with this right ought to be equally clear. 
Now, the simple and sufficient reason why this gen- 
eral right of the laborer takes the special form of a 
right to a Living Wage, is that in the present in- 
dustrial organization of society, there is no other 
way in which the right can be realized. He cannot 
find a part of his livelihood outside of his wages 
because there are no unappropriated goods within 
his reach. To force him to make the attempt would 

x C f - Rev - A - Pettier, " de Jure et Justitia," pp. 220-265; 

Verhaegen, " le minimum de salaire " ; Pope Leo XIII, in 

Rerum Novarum": "The preservation of life is the 

bounden duty of each and all, and to fail therein is a crime. 

follows that each one has a right to procure what is 

required in order to live ; and the poor can procure it in no 

other way than by their wages." 



be to compel him to live on less than a reasonable 
minimum. And the obligation of paying him this 
amount of wages rests upon the members of the in- 
dustrial community in which he lives ; for they have 
so appropriated the resources of nature, and so dis- 
tributed the opportunities and functions of industry, 
that he can effectively realize his natural right of 
access to the goods of the earth only through the 
medium of wages. As long, therefore, as the pres- 
ent organization of industry exists, the obligation 
of not hindering the laborer from enjoying his right 
to a decent livelihood will be commuted into the 
obligation of paying him a Living Wage. 

The right to a Living Wage is asserted to be valid 
against " the members of the community in which 
the laborer lives." Whether the term " members " 
refers merely to the employers, or to other persons 
as well, or to the community in its civil capacity, 
that is, the State, will be fully discussed in later 
chapters. For the present it is sufficient to point 
out that the right exists, and that it holds against 
those who are responsible for converting the la- 
borer's opportunity of getting a living into the 
opportunity of receiving wages. " The industrial 
community in which the laborer lives " can be de- 
fined only approximately. It describes that section 
of the world's inhabitants with which the laborer 
comes into somewhat close economic relations, 
chiefly, those who are primarily benefited by his 
labor, and those who have appropriated that portion 
of the earth's resources that otherwise would be 
practically within his reach. Evidently these classes 



or persons are under obligations of justice toward 
the laborer that are shared only slightly, if at all, 
by men living on another continent. The latter may, 
indeed, have been beneficiaries of the laborer's toil, 
but they cannot practically do anything toward se- 
curing to him a Living Wage, beyond paying a fair 
price for his product ; besides, they are under more 
pressing industrial obligations toward their imme- 
diate neighbors. It is also true that they have ap- 
propriated some of the common bounty of nature to 
which the laborer on the other side of the globe has, 
as one of the children of men, an indefinite birth- 
right; owing, however, to the intervening distance, 
they have not vitally interfered with the realization 
of this right. Men's rights and obligations respect- 
ing their common heritage of material goods must 
be applied and interpreted with a reasonable regard 
to their various conditions of place, possession, abil- 
ity, and opportunity. 

One of the principal reasons why the right to a 
Living Wage has been obscured in the minds of 
many men is the complexity of modern economic 
life. An example or two will illustrate this con- 
tention. Let us suppose that six men settle upon a 
no-man's land, and proceed to divide it amongst 
them. Although it is capable of affording a com- 
fortable livelihood for all six, five of them an 
undoubted majority organize a government, and 
divide the land in such a way that the portion allot- 
ted to the sixth will barely keep him alive. Each of 
the other five is thus enabled to enjoy something 
more than a decent livelihood. Now, it is safe to 



say that ninety-nine of one hundred men would 
condemn this proceeding as unjust. They would 
maintain that the right of the sixth man to the whole 
amount of land distributed was just as good as the 
right of any of the others, and that no reason, title, 
or justification existed for depriving him of an equal 
share, when that much was essential to a decent 
livelihood. Imagine, now, a company of fifty men 
taking up their abode on a territory that no man has 
previously visited or claimed. Instead of dividing 
up the land, they till it in common, and distribute 
its produce. Not all of them, however, labor upon 
the soil ; there is a shoemaker, a weaver, a tailor, a 
carpenter, and so on ; every man performs the task 
for which he is best fitted. But the distribution of 
their common product is so carried out that forty- 
five can live in abundance, while the remaining five 
have merely the means of continuing to exist and 
work. The services of these latter, so the other 
five assert, are not worth more than this pittance. 
Again it is palpable that the common product of a 
common property has been unjustly apportioned by 
the arbitrary action of the majority; for the five, we 
assume, perform a reasonable amount of useful 
labor. The case is precisely the same, at least in 
principle, in the more complex and elaborate indus- 
trial conditions of to-day: the members of a com- 
munity who are in control of its land and resources 
violate the laborer's right to live decently out of the 
common bounty of nature when they so take advan- 
tage of the existing distribution of private property 
as to deny him a Living Wage. In exercising their 



right of access to the earth, they make it impossible 
for the laborer to exercise his as fully as is demanded 
by decency and justice. And they do it just as 
effectively, they are as truly responsible for the 
laborer's inability to enjoy his natural right, as the 
greedy and arbitrary majority in the above men- 
tioned examples. For the laborer, generally speak- 
ing, is as little able to change his location as are the 
harshly treated members of those two isolated com- 
munities. A few workingmen could, indeed, find a 
living elsewhere, but the overwhelming majority 
must stay where they are, or merely exchange places 
with one another, unless the whole machinery of in- 
dustry is to stop, and mankind to perish off the face 
of the earth. The controllers of the industries and 
material resources of a community cannot get along 
without wage-workers ; rather than make the attempt, 
they would gladly pay every one of them a Living 
Wage ; which is a clear indication that they regard the 
laborer as really worth that amount. Hence the com- 
plexity of the present industrial system obscures, 
but in no way annuls, either the rights of the laborer, 
or the correlative obligations of his fellow citizens. 

Another cause of the prevailing indifference to- 
ward these rights and obligations is ignorance and 
neglect of the common, or social, aspect of prop- 
erty. All too general is the notion sanctioned by 
the definitions of property in the Roman Law and 
in the Civil Code of France, that a man has a right 
to do with his own what he pleases. 1 Such a claim 

1 Cf. " Propriete, capital, et travail," by L'Abbe Naudet, 
pp. 29-31. 



is obviously absurd, since men have not a right to do 
as they like with their faculties, to say nothing of 
the bounty of nature which was created for the 
benefit of all. They have a right to do with their 
own only that which is consistent with the rights of 
others. The private proprietor too often forgets 
that his right of ownership is valid only as a means 
to his right of use, and that the latter is a right com- 
mon to all mankind, which he is obliged to interpret 
and exercise within such limits that its realization 
shall be possible for his fellow men likewise. He 
forgets that when he appropriates a portion of the 
earth's resources for his own use and benefit he 
diminishes by that much the amount available for 
private ownership by the rest of men. He forgets 
that his less fortunate neighbors, among whom must 
be counted the laborers, have, on account of their 
inborn right of access to the world's material goods, 
some sort of claim to that part thereof which he 
calls his own. The exaggeration of the scope of 
individual ownership, and of the ability of the prop- 
ertyless man to take care of himself in the com- 
petitive struggle, has converted into a maxim of 
business ethics the contention that employer and em- 
ployee have no property rights against each other 
except those expressly named in the labor contract. 
The fact that a contract may be the occasion of a 
right which it does not explicitly provide for, is 
entirely overlooked. It is forgotten that the laborer 
enters the wage-contract as a man endowed with a 
natural and indestructible right to a decent liveli- 
hood, which the contract renders impossible of real- 



ization except through the medium of wages. His 
right to a Living Wage is merely the former right 
as modified and determined by the contract. In so 
far as it is valid against his employer, it is produced 
neither by his contract with the latter nor by his 
right to a decent livelihood, taken separately, but by 
the two in conjunction. 

A truer and more humane conception of the re- 
lation between the right of individual ownership and 
the right of use, and of the duties of the private 
proprietor, was developed and fostered in medieval 
society. The Christian doctrine that private owner- 
ship is not an absolute right, but merely a form of 
stewardship, according to which the individual holds 
his wealth from God and is obliged to administer it 
for the benefit of others, as well as of himself, was 
more frequently preached, and more generally and 
vitally accepted than it is to-day. 1 In the thirteenth 
century, we find Pope Clement IV permitting 
strangers to occupy and till the third part of any 
estate which the proprietor refused to put under 
cultivation himself. Pope Sixtus IV, in the fif- 
teenth century, made the same regulation with re- 
gard to domains in the Papal territory. 2 Here we 
have a clear recognition of the principle that a man 
has not a right to do what he pleases with his own, 
but only that which is consistent with the right of 
common ownership in his needy neighbors. Every 
man performing a function in the medieval organ- 
ization of industry, the lord of the land, the free 

1 Cf. Cunningham, " Western Civilization," II, pp. 104- 
107. 2 Cf. Naudet, op. cit, pp. 35, 36. 



tenant, the villain, the serf, the merchant, the mas- 
ter-craftsman, the journeyman, the apprentice, was 
regarded as rendering a social service. In return 
for this contribution to the community, the indi- 
vidual had a right, according to medieval theory, to 
security in his position or status, and to the means 
of living in conformity with the customs of his 
social rank. 1 This, again, was merely the doctrine 
of man's right to a living from the bounty of the 
earth, applied to the conditions of medieval society. 
Concrete assertions of the same principle are heard 
to-day in the claim of the laborer that he has a right 
to work and a right to the job that he has held for 
a considerable time; in the conviction of the em- 
ployer that his workmen commit an act of injustice 
when they arbitrarily quit work ; and in the conten- 
tion of the independent dealer or manufacturer 
that he has a right to the business of which he is 
deprived by the practice of temporary underselling 
pursued by the trust. The principle underlying all 
these beliefs, medieval and modern, is that formu- 
lated by Aristotle as a canon of social expediency, 
" it is best to have property private, but to make the 
use of it common " ; and by Aquinas as a require- 
ment of justice, " it is right that the ownership of 
goods should be private, but the use of them ought 
to be common, so that the owner may readily min- 
ister therefrom to the needs of others." 

To the objection that some laborers possess other 
means of living in addition to their labor power, 

1 Cf . Weiss, " Apologie des Christenthums," IV, 368, sq. ; 
Ashley, "English Economic History," II, pp. 389-393. 



the answer is that these are rather rare exceptions. 
Whether they also have a right to a Living Wage, 
is of comparatively small importance. Still it would 
seem that the question ought to be answered in 
the affirmative, since they perform as much labor 
as their less fortunate fellows. At any rate, there 
are good social reasons for paying them as much as 
is received by the other workers of their group. 

A word will not be out of place concerning the 
wage-rights of women and children. According to 
the foregoing reasoning, it is evident that those 
women who are forced to provide their own suste- 
nance have a right to what is a Living Wage for 
them. Since they have no other way of living but 
by their labor, the compensation therefor should be 
sufficient to enable them to live decently. Again, 
women doing the same work with the same degree 
of efficiency as men in occupations where both sexes 
are employed, have a right not merely to a woman's 
Living Wage, but to the same remuneration as 
their male fellow workers. Distributive justice re- 
quires that equally competent workers be rewarded 
equally. Moreover, when the women receive less 
pay than the men the latter are gradually driven out 
of that occupation. 1 Unless we hold that an in- 
crease in the proportion of women workers is 
desirable, we must admit that social welfare would 
be advanced by the payment of uniform wages to 
both sexes for equally efficient labor. 2 

1 Cf. Smart, " Studies in Economics," chapter on 
" Women's Wages." 

2 Cf. Fairbanks, " Introduction to Sociology," p. 148. 


Children of either sex who have reached the age 
at which they can, without detriment to themselves 
or society, become wage earners, but who cannot 
perform the work of adults, have a right to a wage 
sufficient to afford them a decent livelihood. They 
are entitled to this because their wages, generally 
speaking, constitute their sole source of mainte- 
nance. It must be noted that a Living Wage for 
children refers to their essential needs as members 
of a family, not to the requisites of boarding-house 
life, as this is not the condition in which working 
children are usually placed. Finally, children of 
either sex who perform the work of adults ought 
to receive the wages of adults, for the same reasons 
that justify the payment of men's wages to equally 
efficient women. 1 

1 In speaking of a Living Wage, whether for men, 
women, or children, it is assumed that they are employed 
during the whole of the working time of the year. Conse- 
quently, women who are obliged to devote all their attention 
to household duties for a considerable portion of the year, 
and children who attend school, are not entitled to a Living 
Wage for the entire year. As we shall see, their right to a 
Living Wage must be secured in another way. 




The controversy regarding the attitude of Pope Leo's 
Encyclical toward a family Living Wage. Cardinal Zig- 
liara's peculiar interpretation of the principle of equiva- 
lence. His argument from the family's relation to the 
work done by the husband and father. The theory that a 
wage sufficient for family maintenance is due merely as a 
matter of social utility. The theory that bases it on 
"equity." And on the social estimate. A family Living 
Wage is due to the adult male laborer because of his 
dignity as a man and his essential needs. An objection 
answered. The family Living Wage is a uniform quan- 
tity, and is due to all adult male laborers. The size of 
family to be taken as a measure of this wage. 

When Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical, " On the 
Condition of Labor," declared that the remuneration 
of the workingman ought to be at least sufficient 
" to support him in reasonable and frugal comfort," 
a discussion immediately arose among Catholic 
moralists as to whether the phrase just quoted was 
intended to cover the conditions and requisites of 
family life. Those who held to the affirmative cited 
in confirmation of their position the following pas- 
sage, which occurs in the next paragraph of the 
encyclical : "If a workman's wages be sufficient to 
maintain himself, his wife, and his children in rea- 



sonable comfort, he will not find it difficult ... to 
put by a little property." 

Unquestionably the hypothetical wages referred 
to are assumed to constitute the compensation that 
is normal, but there is no explicit assertion that so 
much is due the laborer as a matter of justice. 
Within a few months after these words were writ- 
ten, a letter was addressed to the Holy See by the 
Archbishop of Malines, Cardinal Goosens, asking 
whether an employer would do wrong who paid his 
men a wage sufficient for personal maintenance, but 
inadequate to the needs of a family. Pope Leo 
did not himself send any official response, but re- 
ferred the matter to Cardinal Zigliara, who replied 
that the employer in question would not violate jus- 
tice, but that his action might sometimes be contrary 
to charity, or to natural righteousness. At present 
all Catholic writers on the subject hold that the 
employer is under moral obligation to give the work- 
ingman a wage that will maintain his family as well 
as himself, but they do not agree that this obliga- , 
tion falls under the head of justice. In other words, 
some of them deny that the laborer has a strict 
right to a family Living Wage. 1 

Cardinal Zigliara's explanation of his decision 
leaves something to be desired, both in clearness 
and in conclusiveness. He says that when a rela- 
tion of equality exists between the labor performed 
and the compensation received the demands of jus- 

1 A critical review of this discussion will be found in 
Vermeersch, op. cit., pp. 530-554. Cf. also, Turman, "Le 
Catholicisme sociale," pp. 58-68. 



tice are fully satisfied ; and he plainly intimates that 
this condition is verified when the laborer is paid 
merely an individual Living Wage. According to 
this reasoning, the minimum means of a decent live- 
lihood is likewise the maximum that any laborer can 
claim as a matter of justice. A Living Wage is in 
all cases a completely just wage. As this aspect of 
the wage problem does not come within the scope 
of our argument, it is given merely a passing men- 
tion to show the danger of attempting to base the 
right to a Living Wage upon assumptions of equality 
between labor and remuneration. He says that in 
labor-contracts the rule of equality must be inter- 
preted with reference to the laborer's duty of self- 
support. The remuneration must be adequate, 
equal, to this end ; hence the relation of equality has 
for one term the laborer's wages, and for the other 
his purely personal needs. In the last chapter some- 
thing was said concerning the ambiguity to which 
the principle of equivalence is liable : the interpreta- 
tion that we are considering looks like an abandon- 
ment, or, at least, an essential transformation of it ; 
for the equality required is no longer between the 
things exchanged, labor and pay, or between the net 
gains of the two contracting parties, but between 
compensation and the laborer's welfare. The Car- 
dinal defends his interpretation on the ground that 
human labor, being the product of a person, is of 
much greater dignity than merchandise, and ought 
not to be measured by precisely the same standard 
of contractual justice. Not merely the work itself, 
but the human doer of it, must be taken into account 



in determining its just equivalent. Undoubtedly; 
but why should it be assumed that a just equivalent 
is found in the bare essentials of decent living out- 
side of the married state? Since the laborer has 
many other needs, the satisfaction of which is mor- 
ally legitimate, does it not seem just that his wage 
should be capable of meeting all, or, at least, the 
more important of them? Ought it not to be the 
equivalent of a comfortable and care-free family 
life, of a college education for his children, an 
annual pleasure trip for himself and wife, and, for 
all of them, ample opportunities of cultivating the 
higher life? The assertion that the equivalence that 
ought to exist between pay and work is realized 
when pay equals a personal Living Wage, is really 
very like a begging of the main question. As an 
interpretation of the equality principle, it is quite as 
arbitrary and quite as incapable of proof as the one 
advanced by Father Antoine and noticed in the last 
chapter, namely, that the remuneration ought to be 
equivalent to the labor-force expended. 

Cardinal Zigliara says further that, since the 
product for which the laborer is paid is not partici- 
pated in nor increased by his family, justice does not 
require that his remuneration should be increased 
on their account. But those who defend the la- 
borer's right to a family Living Wage do not declare 
it from any relation, real or assumed, between his 
family and the work that he performs or the em- 
ployer that he serves. They derive it from his own 
dignity as a man. It is a personal prerogative 
which has, however, his family as a secondary bene- 



ficiary. The Cardinal admits and maintains that the 
laborer has a right to a wage sufficient for his sup- 
port outside of the marriage relation. Now this 
means that the laborer will give a part of his earn- 
ings to some merchant in exchange for the clothes 
that he wears, making the merchant to that extent 
a secondary beneficiary of his wages; yet Cardinal 
Zigliara would not have argued that, since the 
clothier has nothing to do with the work performed 
by the laborer, the latter has no right to the portion 
of his remuneration thus expended. Neither does it 
follow that he has not a right to the measure of 
wages necessary to provide for his family. The two 
cases differ, indeed, in degree, but they are alike in 
principle. In both the primary purpose of the right 
asserted is the welfare of the laborer himself, while 
the secondary end is in the former case the clothing 
merchant, and in the latter the laborer's family. 
As a matter of fact, the argument that we are criti- 
cizing looks like a different interpretation of the 
r<|uivaU'!uv ptindplr than the one discussed in the 
preceding paragraph. It points logically to the con- 
clusion that the laborer has a strict right merely to 
the amount of compensation that will keep in repair 
those physical forces that are essential to the per- 
formance of his task. According to this interpre- 
tation, the relation of equivalence is not between 
wage and reasonable personal needs outside of the 
married state, but between wage and expended 
labor-force ; and the laborer has a right, not to com- 
pensation that will support him in " reasonable and 
frugal comfort/ 1 but to that which will provide him 



with the bare necessaries of life and working 

Father Antoinc deduces the laborer's claim to a 
family Living Wage from considerations of social 
welfare. 1 In any rightly ordered society the father 
is the natural provider for all the members of the 
family; if he lacks the means of performing this 
duty adequately the result is pauperism, crime and 
other social evils. Hence the 1 laborer who is the 
head of a family ought to receive compensation suf- 
ficient for the becoming maintenance of his wife 
and children. This much is due him from his em- 
ployer, not by any relation of strict justice for 
under this head the laborer can claim merely the 
means of repairing expended energy but as a mat- 
ter of " natural righteousness " or decency (" Jwn- 
nctctc nalurcllc "). Because of his relation to so- 
ciety on the one hand, and to his employees on the 
other, the employer is morally bound to discharge 
this task. Concerning this argument it will be suf- 
ficient to say that the positive part of it is entirely, 
sound; for social welfare does require that the mar- 
ried laborer should command the means of properly 
providing for his family, and that the employer 
should furnish these means ; while the assertion that 
this minimum of remuneration is not due the la- 
borer by a title of strict justice, is based on the 
assumption, already criticized, that the equivalence 
between work and pay demanded by justice is fully 
satisfied by a wage that replaces the output of labor- 

* Op. cit, p. 606. 


According to Father Castelein, the value of a 
man's labor is always equivalent to an individual 
Living Wage, but not necessarily to a remuneration 
that will provide for the needs of a family. After 
the laborer has been paid a wage sufficient for per- 
sonal maintenance, and after the other factors of 
production have been fairly remunerated, there will 
normally remain a certain gross profit which in 
"general justice," or " equity," ought to be divided 
between employer and employee. If this distribu- 
tion is fairly carried out the laborer will, generally 
speaking, receive sufficient for his family's support. 
Like Father Antoine's, this view is correct on its 
positive side, but its denial of the laborer's right to 
anything more than the means of personal mainte- 
nance is but feebly defended by its champion. When 
Father Castelein turns from his perplexing and in- 
effective discussion of the kind of justice that is 
involved, he admits that a family Living Wage is 
due the laborer because of his dignity as a man. 1 

Father Vermeersch asserts that the social esti- 
mate, which is always the proximate determinant of 
the just price of labor, regards the labor of the 
head of the family as worth at least a family Liv- 
ing Wage. He does not, however, content himself 
with this argument. If the laborer, he says, fails to 
secure this amount his personal independence, or 
personal dignity, is ignored; the exercise of some 
of his most essential powers and faculties is hin- 
dered; his fundamental right to the use of the 
world's goods is violated. 2 The validity of the argu- 

1 Op. cit, pp, 376-395. 2 Op. cit., thesis 29. 


ment from the social estimate has been sufficiently 
criticized in the last chapter. The argument from 
the personal dignity of the laborer, however, is 
sound, is, in fact, the only one that rests securely 
on the fundamental principles of natural justice. 1 

For the laborer who complies in a reasonable 
degree with nature's universal law of work, has a 
natural right to at least the minimum of the material 
conditions of decent and reasonable living. This 
proposition has received ample development and 
defense in foregoing chapters. Now a decent and 
reasonable life implies the power to exercise one's 
primary faculties, supply one's essential needs, and 
develop one's personality. Self-preservation is un- 
doubtedly the " first law of nature," but, if the ex- 
perience of the race is any criterion, self-propaga- 
tion is the second. At least, it is the expression of 
one of man's primary and strongest instincts. One 
of his most essential needs is the permanent love and 
companionship of a person of the opposite sex. The 
marriage state is not so imperatively necessary for 
right living as is security of life and a decent per- 
sonal livelihood, yet it is of primary importance. 
The difference between these three needs is merely 
one of degree. All must be satisfied in the average 
man before he can live a reasonable and normal life. 
Without a religious vocation, the majority of men 
cannot reach a proper degree of self -development 
outside of the conjugal state. This is not to say 
that the man who has not been supernaturally called 

1 Among the ablest presentations of this view are those 
of Pettier and Verhaegen in the works already cited. 



cannot be celibate and chaste a doctrine becoming 
only to the foul of mind and weak of will but it 
means that for the average man celibacy is not nor- 
mal, and consequently cannot be taken as a measure 
of reasonable and natural rights. The man who is 
forced by poverty to accept it supports an unnatural 
and unjustifiable burden, and is deprived of one of 
the chief means of normal self-development. Hence, 
" the minimum of the material conditions of decent 
and reasonable living " comprises, for the adult male, 
the means of supporting a family. To this much of 
the world's goods he has a natural right which is 
valid " against the members of the industrial com- 
munity in which he lives." In the case of the 
laborer this claim must be formulated in terms of 
wages. To resume: the laborer has a right to a 
family Living Wage because this is the only way 
in which he can exercise his right to the means of 
maintaining a family, and he has a right to these 
means because they are an essential condition of 
normal life. 

It has been objected that according to this reason- 
ing, the laborer would be entitled to a wage sufficient 
to support his infirm and needy parents. To care 
for them is both his duty and his right ; consequently 
he has a right to the one means adequate to this 
end, an increased remuneration for his labor. The 
cases, however, are not in all respects parallel. The 
right to become the head of a family is essentially 
different from the right to support infirm parents. 
The former is a necessary condition of normal and 
reasonable self -development, and implies the right 



to the material goods required for its realization. 
The right to the means of maintaining a family, 
therefore, is not finally derived from the duty of 
maintaining it from the needs of the family but 
from the laborer's dignity, from his own essential 
needs. True it is that if the support of wife and 
children did not in the normal order of things fall 
upon the husband and father, he would not have a 
right to the additional remuneration required for 
this purpose ; but this merely shows that the duty is 
the occasion, or condition, not the ultimate cause of 
the right. The right to the conditions of being the 
head of a family, which is obvious, implies the right 
to a family Living Wage, because nature and reason 
have decreed that the family should be supported by 
its head. But the right to support one's needy 
parents rests upon an entirely different basis. Its 
existence is not an essential condition of right and 
reasonable life ; for in the normal order of things 
the parents themselves will have, or should have, 
taken precautions against such an emergency. And, 
as rights are not to be interpreted by the abnormal 
and exceptional exigencies of existence, the laborer 
cannot justly claim an increased wage on account of 

It is held by some that the laborer's remuneration 
should vary with the size of his family, but this 
seems an undesirable way of measuring it. There 
are many reasons why the cost of rearing the family 
should be regarded as a unit, and the laborer's 
wages as a uniform rate. Then the cost of main- 
taining himself and wife until death and the children 



until they are of an age to be self-supporting, 
divided by his working time as an adult in full vigor, 
will give in terms of money the family Living Wage. 
Hence the laborer who is not yet married has a right 
to this family wage, and not merely to a remunera- 
tion that will suffice for his present needs. The 
difference should be reckoned as a necessary provi- 
sion for marriage, and, therefore, as slightly dimin- 
ishing the rate of pay that otherwise would be 
necessary as soon as the laborer entered the con- 
jugal state. 

Moreover, the right to a family Living Wage 
belongs to every adult male laborer, whether he 
intends to marry or not ; for rights are to be inter- 
preted according to the average conditions of hu- 
man life, and these suppose the laborer to become 
the head of a family. There is, too, a good social 
reason for treating married and unmarried alike in 
the matter of remuneration. If employers were 
morally free to pay single laborers less than a fam- 
ily Living Wage they would strive to engage these 
exclusively, and perhaps to exact a promise that 
they should not marry. Thus a premium would be 
placed upon a very undesirable kind of celibacy. 

The family that it seems reasonable to take as a 
basis for estimating the proper remuneration of the 
husband and father, is that containing the average 
number of children found in workingmen's families. 
This standard is not entirely satisfactory, since it 
not infrequently happens that the mathematical 
average is exceeded in a large number (a majority 
sometimes) of the families of a place, but it seems 


to be the best that is available. We cannot take 
" the number of children that is usual," as suggested 
by Father Vermeersch, 1 for the expression has 
no precise meaning ; no such number exists. In five 
different groups of full-grown families (1636 in all) 
described in the Sixth and Seventh Annual Reports 
of the United States Commissioner of Labor, the 
following facts are to be observed: the number of 
children per family in a bare majority of the fam- 
ilies of three of the groups, was represented by three 
different figures ; in the other two groups the " usual 
number " was four different numbers. The prob- 
lem will be made somewhat more definite by an ex- 
ample : in one group, consisting of 832 families, the 
numbers most frequently recurring were three, four, 
and five; that is to say, there were 149, 128, and 121 
families containing respectively three, four, and five 
children. Now it could scarcely be said that the 
" usual number " of children per family in that 
group was from three to five, for all these families 
combined were less than a majority. The average 
number, therefore, seems to be the only serviceable 
criterion. Or, if that seems too low, since a major- 
ity of the families considered might be larger than 
the average indicates, the highest number that is 
found in a considerable proportion of the families, 
might be adopted as the standard. In the group 
just referred to, the average number of children per 
family was 4.3, while the number in one-third of 
the families (347) was five or more. The estimates 
of a family Living Wage made on the basis of these 

i Op. cit, pp. 577, 578. 
8 9 


two numbers would not be far apart. Hence it is 
sufficiently accurate to say that the family that ought 
to serve as a standard of measurement in the matter 
of decent remuneration for the adult male laborer, 
is one having four or five children. 

NOTE TO SECOND EDITION. Certain reviewers 
have contended that, as the immediate object of the 
labor-contract is the work done, this, and not a 
family livelihood, is the term to which strict justice 
requires the wage to be equivalent. Now, the 
" work done " is either to be taken objectively, 
divorced entirely from the needs and sacrifices of 
the doer, or it is not to be so taken. In the for- 
mer hypothesis, the market rate of wages must 
always be regarded as just ; in the latter, the " fam- 
ily needs " of the laborer have as valid claims to be 
considered as have those individual needs which are 
not met by the market rate, yet which must be met 
if he is to live decently. But the author prefers to 
discard the " equivalence " concept entirely, and to 
regard the difference between the current rate and 
a family Living Wage, as due the laborer in virtue 
of his own personal dignity and the distributive 
function of the employer. Because of this function, 
his generic obligation so to use the resources of the 
earth that his neighbors will be able to obtain on 
reasonable conditions a decent livelihood therefrom, 
becomes a specific obligation to pay his employees a 
family Living Wage. In a sense this obligation 
seems to belong to distributive justice ; nevertheless 
it is one of strict justice, precisely as is the obliga- 
tion of not imposing upon any individual a dispro- 
portionate amount of taxes. 




A more precise determination of a " decent livelihood " 
necessary. It can be made with sufficient exactness for 
practical needs. A decent livelihood may be taken either 
absolutely or relatively to the conventional needs of a class. 
Estimates by various authorities of a decent livelihood in 
terms of goods. The slight discrepancies due to different 
viewpoints. Detailed statement of the elements of decent 
living for every section of the family. Various estimates 
of the money measure of a Living Wage at different times 
during the last fifteen years. The question whether the 
proportion of workers getting less than Living Wages has 
declined in that period. 

According to the argument of the last chapter, a 
decent livelihood for the adult male laborer means a 
wage capable of maintaining himself, his wife, and 
those of his children who are too young to be self- 
supporting, in a condition of reasonable comfort. 
(Henceforth when the phrase, " a decent liveli- 
hood," and " a Living Wage," are used without 
qualification they are to be understood in this sense.) 
The question naturally arises, what precisely does 
this imply in terms of goods or money? Unless an 
attempt is made to answer it, the whole discussion 



of wage-rights and obligations remains too abstract, 
too vague, to be of much practical value. There 
would, in fact, be some force to the objection that 
all the workingmen of America are even now paid 
a Living Wage. 

Evidently the question before us cannot be an- 
swered with absolute precision. The needs of men 
and their powers of making an effective use of a 
given amount of goods or money are too dissimilar 
to find a perfectly exact expression in any common 
denominator. And even if a common rate of wages 
would bring precisely the same degree of comfort to 
all the families depending upon it, there remains the 
supreme difficulty of translating " reasonable com- 
fort " into more concrete terms. In all probability 
the individual estimates of no body of men, however 
competent and well meaning, would be in entire 
agreement. And no prudent person would assert 
that a slight deduction from the amount that he re- 
garded as certainly sufficient for a decent livelihood 
would render the remainder certainly insufficient. 
Nevertheless, the question can be answered with 
sufficient definiteness to safeguard the human dig- 
nity of the laborer and his family, and that is all 
that any one cares to know. We can distinguish 
twilight from darkness, although we cannot identify 
the precise moment when the one merges into the 
other. Though we cannot say just when artificial 
light becomes more effective than that of the waning 
day, we usually call it into service before the ap- 
proaching darkness proves notably inconvenient. 
Thus it is in the matter of a Living Wage. Some 



rates of remuneration we know to be certainly ade- 
quate, and others to be no less certainly inadequate. 
While we may not be able to put our finger on the 
precise point of the descending scale at which the 
rate ceases to be sufficient, we can approximate it 
in such a way that the resulting inaccuracy will not 
produce notable inconvenience. We can, at least, 
define a limit below which it is wrong to go, while 
not committing ourselves to the conclusion that the 
limit is sufficiently high. In other words, a wage 
under the limit would be regarded as certainly too 
low, but a wage at the limit, as doubtful. An esti- 
mate of this character can be so formulated as to 
have a very high practical value. 

A decent livelihood may be understood either ab- 
solutely or relatively. In the former sense it is an 
unvarying standard that is applicable to all condi- 
tions of human existence. It takes no account of 
needs based on custom or on any subjective appre- 
ciation of the requisites of welfare, nor does it make 
any allowance for the possibilities of progress. It 
is measured solely by man's essential and universal 
needs, and describes in general terms the requisites 
of normal and reasonable human life. And it may 
obviously be either below or above what is known as' 
the conventional standard of a community. For ex- 
ample, the men and women of America could live 
decent and becoming lives, absolutely speaking, with- 
out wearing shoes during the summer season. On 
the other hand, a conventional standard of living, 
though .satisfactory to the people with whom it ob- 
tains, may fall short of the absolute norm. If the 



description given in Dicey's " Peasant State " is cor- 
rect, a large class of the inhabitants of Bulgaria, 
apparently contented, do not live reasonable human 
lives. 1 They have not the means of exercising that 
minimum of activity, physical, intellectual, and 
moral, which should differentiate the life of men 
from that of beasts. 

While the conditions of existence indicated by the 
absolute standard constitute a minimum below 
which it is wrong for men to descend, they are not 
sufficient for decent living in the case of most civil- 
ized communities. Man is everywhere affected by 
two classes of needs : objective, or natural ; and sub- 
jective, or acquired. 

Through the influence of habit or custom he comes 
to regard certain of these acquired needs as essential 
elements of a decent standard of life. They differ 
relatively to different races, communities, ranks and 
classes of men, but to the persons among whom they 
have been developed they are of vital importance. 
Hence a decent livelihood, or a Living Wage, must 
conform in a reasonable degree to the conventional 
standard of life that prevails in any community or 
group. For, in order to live becomingly, men must 
possess not only those goods that are objectively 
necessary, but in some measure those that they think 
are necessary. Indeed, the latter may become more 
indispensable to decent living than some of the 
things that are objective and primary; for men will 
sometimes procure them at the expense of the oth- 
ers. Thus, many persons, men as well as women, 

1 Quoted in Mrs. Bosanquet's " Standard of Life," p. 9. 


will deprive themselves of necessary food rather 
than appear among their neighbors in garments that 
are not in accordance with the conventional modes. 
At any rate, the inability to satisfy the more impor- 
tant of the conventional needs always involves a 
grave injury to self-respect, and therefore subjects 
human beings to hardships that are incompatible 
with normal and reasonable living. Finally, owing 
to the development of new wants, a decent liveli- 
hood now may be below the standard of decency that 
will prevail ten years hence. To ignore the newly 
developed wants then would be as harmful as to 
ignore existing wants now ; hence a Living Wage is 
relative not only to the community or class, but to 
its different stages of development. 

The content of a Living Wage for the laborers of 
America will be described first as a certain quantity 
of goods and conditions of living, and then in terms 
of money. The following estimates will prove sug- 
gestive and helpful : 

" Undoubtedly the first moral charge on the na- 
tional income is such a sum as is necessary to bring 
up a family, providing for health, education, ef- 
ficiency of work, and the conditions generally of a 
moral life. Anything below such a level subjects 
human beings to hardships and temptations to which 
they should not be exposed, and to conditions in 
which men and women are not free but in bondage 
to physical wants. If the present system, or any 
system, did not promise this at some not distant 
period, we should have to say, like Mill, that, if 
this or communism were the alternative, ' all the 



difficulties, great or small, of Communism would 
be but as dust in the balance/ " 1 

" The necessaries for the efficiency of an ordinary 
agricultural or of an unskilled town laborer and his 
family, in England, in this generation, may be said 
to consist of a well-drained dwelling with several 
rooms, warm clothing, with some changes of under- 
clothing, pure water, a plentiful supply of cereal 
food, with a moderate allowance of meat and milk, 
and a little tea, etc., some education and some recre- 
ation, and lastly, sufficient freedom for his wife 
from other work to enable her to perform properly 
her maternal and her household duties. ... In 
addition, perhaps, some consumption of alcohol and 
tobacco, and some indulgence in fashionable dress 
are in many places so habitual that they may be said 
to be conventionally necessary, since in order to 
obtain them the average man and woman will sac- 
rifice some things that are necessary for efficiency." 2 

Professor Munro defines a Living Wage as, " a 
yearly wage sufficient to maintain the worker in the 
highest state of industrial efficiency, and to afford 
him adequate leisure to discharge the duties of citi- 
zenship." 3 

Mr. Devas summarizes the minimum livelihood 
that should be guaranteed to all workers thus : the 
means of physical existence; practical possibility of 
marriage; separate homes; insurance against sick- 

1 Smart, " Studies in Economics," p. 302, note. 

2 Marshall, " Principles of Economics," Bk. II, ch. IV, 
sec. 2. 

3 " Economic Journal," June, 1894, p. 365. 



ness, old age, and industrial accidents ; and some 
access to the treasures of literature, art and cul- 
ture. 1 

The Interdenominational Conference of Social 
Service Unions of Great Britain made this declara- 
tion in 1917: " In an industrial system such as ours, 
the right to life practically resolves itself into the 
right to a Living Wage, by which we mean not a 
mere subsistence wage but a wage sufficient to main- 
tain a reasonable standard of life." 

Justice Higgins of Australia declares that wages 
are not reasonable unless they are adequate to " the 
normal needs of the average employee, regarded as 
a human being in a civilized community." 

Professor Patten holds that the workingman has 
a right to a home ; to become the head of a family ; 
to self-development; to a share in the social sur- 
plus sufficiently large to make him comfortable; to 
the leisure that is necessary for the revival of 
physical and mental powers ; to recreation for the 
sake of symmetrical development; to cleanliness in 
and about the home; and to some development of 
his sense of the beautiful. 2 

According to President Gompers of the American 
Federation of Labor, a Living Wage is, " a wage 
which, when expended in the most economical man- 
ner, shall be sufficient to maintain an average sized 
family in a manner consistent with whatever the 
contemporary local civilization recognizes as indis- 
pensable to physical and mental health, or, as re- 

1 " Political Economy," p. 498, 2d edition. 
2 " The Theory of Prosperity," pp. 218-227. 



quired by the rational self-respect of human be- 
ings." 1 

" In cities of from five thousand to one hundred 
thousand inhabitants," says President Mitchell of 
the United Mine Workers, " the American standard 
of living should mean, to the ordinary unskilled 
workman with an average family, a comfortable 
house of at least six rooms. It should mean a bath- 
room, good sanitary plumbing, a parlor, dining- 
room, kitchen, and sufficient sleeping-room that 
decency may be preserved and a reasonable degree 
of comfort maintained. The American standard 
of living should mean, to the unskilled workman, 
carpets, pictures, books, and furniture with which 
to make his home bright, comfortable, and attrac- 
tive for himself and his family, an ample supply of 
clothing suitable for winter and summer, and above 
all a sufficient quantity of good, wholesome, nourish- 
ing food at all times of the year. The American 
standard of living, moreover, should mean to the 
unskilled workman, that his children be kept in 
school until they have attained the age of sixteen at 
least, and that he be enabled to lay by sufficient to 
maintain himself and his family in times of illness, 
or at the close of his industrial life, when age and 
weakness render further work impossible, and to 
make provision for his family against premature 
death from accident or otherwise. 

"This, or something like this, is the American 
standard of living, as it exists in the ideals of the 
unskilled workingmen. . . . For the great major- 

1 " The American Federationist," April, 1898. 
9 8 


ity of men, who are willing to work and are not in- 
capacitated by physical, mental, or moral defects, 
the manner of living above described is an approxi- 
mate statement of what their standard should be; 
and with the great productivity of American labor, 
I believe it not unreasonable to say that these things 
should now be possessed by every workingman, 
however unskilled." 1 

Father Vermeersch's estimate of the content of 
a Living Wage is as follows : moderate food, cloth- 
ing and shelter for the laborer and his family; 
festival days and some recreation; proper educa- 
tion for the laborer's children ; and suitable provi- 
sion against accidents, disease and old age. 2 

All of these estimates, however various the terms 
in which they are formulated, are in tolerably close 
agreement, except in the matter of provision for 
sickness, disability and old age. The cause of this 
discrepancy lies in the different viewpoints from 
which the problem is regarded. Writers who have 
in mind the requisites of social welfare, as Marshall 
and Munro, consider the Living Wage primarily 
in relation to the laborer's industrial efficiency. 
They do not take account of his needs during the 
time when he is unable to work because they are 
not describing what he ought to have as a man, but 
what he requires as an instrument of production. 
This is, of course, an entirely proper subject of in- 
quiry, just as is the cost of keeping a machine in 
repair or a horse in a condition of health and 

1<c Organized Labor," pp. 116, 117. 
2 " Quaestiones de Justitia," p. 576. 



strength, but it has no necessary relation to that 
measure of the requisites of living which is due to 
the laborer as a man and an end in himself. The 
question that we are concerned with is not what a 
man must have in order to be a profitable producer, 
but what he ought to have as a human being. The 
estimates referred to, however, are instructive, in- 
asmuch as they indicate that in the long run social 
utility and the demands of individual justice are in 
substantial accord. 

The following is submitted as a rough estimate of 
the minimum amount of goods and opportunities 
that will suffice for decent living and the rearing of 
a family : 

i. Food, clothing and shelter for the laborer and 
his family until his children are old enough to be- 
come wage earners. 

(a) The Children. It was stated in the last 
chapter that the average number of children found 
in the workingmen's families of full growth, is the 
only practicable standard for estimating the extent 
of the family's needs under this head. A study of 
the families for which statistics are presented in the 
" Cotton Group " of the Seventh Annual Report of 
the Department of Labor leads to the conclusion 
that the average number of children in the families 
there described in which the mother had reached 
the end of the child-bearing period, was 4.4. The 
number of families enumerated was 2,132; they 
were distributed over seventeen states, North, South, 
East, and West, and represented fifteen nationalities. 

Except possibly during school vacation, no child 


of either sex should be employed as a wage earner 
under the age of sixteen years. Below that age they 
are, as a rule, not sufficiently strong to work day 
after day under the direction of an employer. Be- 
sides, if they are taken out of school earlier they get 
less than a fair share of education, and of the indus- 
trial opportunities depending upon it. 1 

(b) The Wife. The welfare of the whole fam- 
ily, and that of society likewise, renders it impera- 
tive that the wife and mother should not engage in 
any labor except that of the household. When she 
works for hire she can neither care properly for her 
own health, rear her children aright, nor make her 
home what it should be for her husband, her chil- 
dren and herself. In the words of the Second Con- 
gress of Christian workingmen at Rheims, " la 
f emme devenue ouvriere n'est plus une f emme." 2 
Among the associations and individuals that have 
protested against the employment of wives and 
mothers, or at least of mothers, may be mentioned : 
the Union of Catholic Associations and Working- 
men of Fribourg, Switzerland (1893) ; the Social 
Christians of Germany ; the Christian Democrats of 
Belgium (1894) ; the Catholic Association of Hol- 
land (1897); the Second Congress of Christian. 
Workingmen at Rheims ( 1894) ; the Catholic dele- 
gates to the Industrial Congress for the Protection 
of Workingmen at Zurich (1897) ; the Count de 
Mun ; and Cardinal Manning. 3 

1 Cf . " Poverty," by Robert Hunter, ch. V. 

2 " The wife become wa^e worker is no longer a wife." 
Quoted in Turman's " Le Catholicisme .social," p. 55. 

3 Idem, pp. 50-58. 



(c) Food. The laborer should have food suf- 
ficient in quantity, quality and variety to maintain 
himself and the members of his family in a normal 
condition of health and vitality. 

(d) Clothing. He should be able to provide 
himself and family with clothing adapted in quantity 
and quality to the reasonable requirements of com- 
fort. In addition to being protected against the 
inclemency of the climate, they ought to have the 
means of appearing in becoming attire on " social " 
occasions, in school, in church, and in public gath- 
erings. It is impossible to state precisely the mini- 
mum that is reasonable for this purpose, but speaking 
generally we may say that the laborer and his family 
should possess an outfit of " holiday " apparel, dis- 
tinct from their ordinary or " everyday " garments. 
This is essential to enable them to appear among their 
fellows without hurt to that self-respect and natural 
pride which are indispensable to decent living. 

(e) Shelter. Under this head it is sufficient to 
say that the dwelling occupied by the laborer and 
his family ought to consist of at least five rooms, 
and in general conform to the requirements of rea- 
sonable comfort. Three rooms (one for the par- 
ents, one for the male and one for the female chil- 
dren) are the minimum for sleeping accommoda- 
tions, and it would seem that at least two rooms are 
required for all other purposes. As to equipment, 
the house must, of course, be provided with a rea- 
sonable stock of furniture and utensils, and with 
the amount of heat, light and drainage essential to 
health and comfort. 



The material requisites of decent living may, 
therefore, be summed up as a reasonable amount of 
food, clothing and shelter for himself and his wife 
as long as they live ; and for four or five children 
until these have reached the age of sixteen years. 

2. Besides the needs that are constant, actually 
existent, there are others that are intermittent, and 
still others that will be felt only in the future. The 
laborer's remuneration ought to be sufficiently large 
to enable him to provide against accidents, sickness 
and old age. If it does not he will, when tempo- 
rarily or permanently incapacitated for work, be- 
come a burden on the community or on his children. 
In the latter case the wages received by the children 
would have to be increased beyond their own re- 
quirements. This is not in accord with the normal 
order of things, which suggests that a man's life 
toil should bring him sufficient provision for his 
life needs. 

3. Finally, the laborer and his family have cer- 
tain mental and spiritual needs, the satisfaction of 
which is essential to right living. The chief among 
them are: a moderate amount of amusement and 
recreation; education in the primary branches of 
instruction for the children; some periodical and 
other literature; membership in certain organiza- 
tions, such as benefit societies and Labor Unions; 
and last, but by no means least, the means of fulfill- 
ing in a becoming manner the obligations imposed 
by charity and religion. 

Food, clothing, shelter, insurance, and mental and 
spiritual culture all in a reasonable degree are, 



therefore, the essential conditions of a decent live- 
lihood. Remuneration inadequate to secure all of 
these things to the laborer and his family falls below 
the level of a Living Wage. 

How shall we express these requisites in terms of 
money? The varying cost of living at different 
times and in different sections of the country is 
alone sufficient to render a single general answer ex- 
ceedingly difficult. Nevertheless, an approximation 
can be made that will appeal to all fair-minded men 
as conservative and just, and will indicate with con- 
siderable definiteness an ideal of practical and prac- 
ticable justice that, alas ! is yet very far from being 

In the first edition of this work (published in 
1906) several pages were devoted to the minimum 
cost of decent living for a family in the United 
States. The conclusion reached was thus stated: 
" First, anything less than $600 per year is not a Liv- 
ing Wage in any of the cities of the United States ; 
second, this sum is probably a Living Wage in those 
cities of the Southern States in which fuel, clothing, 
food and some other items of expenditure are 
cheaper than in the North ; third, it is possibly a Liv- 
ing Wage in the moderately sized cities of the West, 
North and East; and, fourth, in some of the last- 
named regions it is certainly not a Living Wage." 

Since this statement was published, we have had 
the benefit of a great number of official and unof- 
ficial investigations and estimates. Perhaps the 
most valuable and significant are those made by the 
United States Bureau of Labor, in 1908, to the 


effect that a fair standard of living for a family of 
five persons among mill workers varied from $600 
per year in the South to $730 in Fall River; by 
Professor Robert C. Chapin, in 1909, which showed 
that anything less than $800 was insufficient for the 
yearly support of a man and wife and three small 
children in Manhattan ; by the New York State Fac- 
tory Investigating Commission, in 1915, whose 
figures were $87643 for New York City and $772.43 
for Buffalo; and by Professor William F. Og- 
burn, Examiner for the National War Labor Board, 
who submitted to that body in the summer of 1918 
a comprehensive series of estimates derived from 
different sources : First, from a study of the actual 
expenditures of 600 families of shipyard workers 
in the neighborhood of New York City; second, by 
adding to budgets recognized as standard in earlier 
years a sum to cover the subsequent increased cost 
of living; third, by adding to the standard cost of 
food the proportionate amount to cover the cost of 
the other items in a family budget. The results are 
thus summarized by Professor Ogburn : x 

1. Detailed budget from family studies $1,386 

2. Professor Chapin's budget brought to date . . . 1,395 

New York factory budget brought to date . 1,356 
Board of Estimate budget brought to date . 1,317 

3. From food allowance ($615, equal to 44% of 

total budget) 1,396 

In order to furnish a more satisfactory notion of 
the reasonableness of these estimates, the following 

1 From memorandum printed for the use of the National 
War Labor Board, p. 13. 



distribution of the minimum budget of $1,386 among 
the different items of expenditure is submitted. The 
budget represents the prices of June, 1918, in the 
New York City district. 

Food $615 

Clothing : 

Man 76 

Woman 55 

Child, II to 14 years '40 

7 to 10 " 33 

" 4 to 6 " 30 

Rent 180 

Fuel and light 62 

Insurance 40 

Organizations 12 

Religion 7 

Street-car fare 40 

Paper, books, etc 9 

Amusements, drinks, tobacco 50 

Sickness 60 

Dentist, oculist, glasses, etc 3 

Furnishings 35 

Laundry 4 

Cleaning supplies 15 

Miscellaneous 20 

Total $1,386 

Between July, 1918, and June, 1919, the average 
retail price of all commodities increased at least 15 
per cent. 1 Therefore, the lowest of the foregoing 
estimates should be raised to $1,514 for June, 1919, 
and the highest to $1,605. I n the light of the fact 
that the cost of living is about two and one-half 
times as high as in 1905, it is interesting to note the 

1 Monthly Labor Review, October, 1919. 
1 06 


close conformity of the estimates given in the first 
edition of this book with those that we are now 

It would seem, then, that the minimum cost of 
decent living for a man and wife and three children 
in the United States to-day (October, 1919) varies 
from $1,400 to $1,500. In the light of the fact 
that the cost of living has more than doubled since 
1905, it is interesting to note the close conformity 
of the estimates given in the first edition of this 
book w r ith those that we have just considered. 

The minimum rates of living wages for women 
workers fixed during the present year by public com- 
missions and boards vary from $11 per week in 
Minnesota and Wisconsin to $16.50 in the District of 

The only statistical basis available for an estimate 
of the proportion of workers in the country who 
are receiving less than living wages, is the Industrial 
Survey made between June, 1918, and June, 1919, 
by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics at 
the request of the War Industries Board. In the 
summary of the results of this survey will be found 
the classified wage rates of 318,946 males and 85,812 
females, distributed over 28 of our largest indus- 
tries and 43 states. 1 Of the males 48 per cent re- 
ceived less than 50 cents per hour and 23 per cent 
less than 40 cents. At the former rate, a man work- 
ing ten hours a day and 300 days a year would earn 
$1,500; at the latter rate and in the same time, he 

1 See summary in the Monthly Labor Review, Septem- 
ber, 1919. Idem, October, 1919. 



would earn only $1,200. Inasmuch as the great 
majority of wage earners are not employed so many 
hours per year as 3,000, a Living Wage would mean 
an hourly rate of about 50 cents. If the average 
rates for the 28 industries covered by the survey are 
typical of all industries, it is evident that a very 
large proportion of the adult males of the United 
States are even to-day receiving less than living 

As regards the females represented in the survey, 
56 per cent received less than 30 cents per hour, and 
36 per cent less than 20 cents. On the basis of a 
forty-eight hour week, which is fully equal to the 
average working time of the great majority through- 
out the year, anything less than 30 cents per hour is 
scarcely a Living Wage for a woman in any of the 
large cities. According to this estimate, something 
like one-half the female workers of the country are 
receiving less than living wages. 




Restatement of some fundamental conclusions. The 
obligation of providing the laborer with a Living Wage 
falls upon the employer because of his economic position. 
Neither labor contracts nor the productivity of labor are 
necessarily correct measures of justice. The employer who 
cannot pay a Living Wage is not bound to do so, but the 
laborer's right to a decent livelihood is superior to the em- 
ployer's right to enjoy goods that are superfluous to his 
social position. The employer is obliged to pay a Living 
Wage before he obtains interest on his invested capital. 
The productivity of capital and the services and sacrifices 
of the capitalist are morally inferior to the needs of the 
laborer. A corporation is under obligation to pay a Living 
Wage at the expense of dividends. 

Two of the more important conclusions arrived 
at in preceding chapters may with advantage be re- 
stated. First, the laborer's right to a Living Wage 
is merely the concrete expression of the general 
right, which inheres in him as in all other men, to 
obtain on reasonable terms as much of the common 
bounty of nature as will enable him to live decently. 
Those who reject this general right are logically 
compelled to reject the intrinsic worth and sacred- 
ness of personality, to deny the reality of moral 



rights, and to maintain that the only determinants 
of property titles are the potency of physical force 
and the ordinances of the civil law. Those who 
admit the validity of the general right will logically 
conclude that in the laborer it becomes the right to 
a Living Wage because, in the present economic 
and political order, there is no other reasonable way 
by which it can obtain a concrete existence. Sec- 
ond, the corresponding obligation falls upon " the 
members of the industrial community in which the 
laborer lives," since they are the primary benefi- 
ciaries of the laborer's exertion and the only persons 
who can reasonably be expected to remunerate him. 
The members of other communities than that in 
which a given laborer lives have not the control over 
his product that would enable them to pay wages 
therefrom; besides, they are under obligations to- 
ward their own neighbors who are wage earners. 
Any reasonable determination of the duties that 
have to do with the resources and opportunities of 
the earth will hold each community responsible for 
the realization of the wage-rights of its own mem- 
bers. While the natural rights of one man to the 
resources and opportunities of the earth must be 
respected by all other men everywhere, the acts and 
omissions imposed by this obligation differ very 
greatly according to circumstances of place and 
position. Propinquity and economic relationships 
are the chief factors in the creation of economic 

Just as the obligation to provide particular labor- 
ers with a Living Wage holds in general against 
1 10 


their own community, rather than other communi- 
ties ; so it binds specifically the employer, rather than 
other economic classes of his community. All 
classes, landowners, employers, capitalists, and la- 
borers, are obliged to refrain from unreasonably 
hindering the gaining of a decent livelihood by their 
fellow men ; but the refusal of landowners and cap- 
italists to pay a Living Wage to laborers who are not 
in their employ cannot fairly be regarded as an 
unreasonable hindrance. Since they do not own the 
laborer's product, they are not in control of the 
source from which, under the wage-system, labor is 
remunerated. But the economic position of the 
employer is such that the obligation falls naturally 
and reasonably upon his shoulders. In the case of 
industrial labor, he gets possession of and sells the 
product; in the case of personal services that are 
utilized solely by him, the obligation is still more 
clearly his, inasmuch as he is the only beneficiary of 
the laborer's exertions. To shift the wage-paying 
obligation, or any portion of it, to other classes 
would involve an essential change in the present in- 
dustrial system. The distribution of duties that 
would be necessitated by vital changes does not con- 
cern us ; we are dealing with the obligations that 
arise out of the order now existing. Among all the 
economic classes of the community, therefore, the 
employer is primarily charged with the obligation of 
providing the laborer with a Living Wage because 
this is a reasonable consequence of his position and 
function in the economic organism. His refusal to 
fulfill it can fairly be interpreted as an unreasonable 



interference with the laborer's right to get a decent 
living from the resources of the earth. 

Another method of describing the employer's 
obligation turns upon the human dignity of the 
laborer as an essential element of the wage-contract. 
The employer is bound to compensate the human 
exertion that he buys at its ethical value. He 
should deal with it as the attribute, the output, of- a 
person, of a rational creature who is endowed with 
an indestructible right to live a decent human life. 
This aspect of the thing that he buys ought to receive 
explicit recognition in the contract ; that is, the con- 
tract should be made on such terms that the dignity 
of the laborer and his right to a decent livelihood 
will be safeguarded. 

According to a third view, the wage-paying func- 
tion is a social one, delegated by society to the em- 
ployer. Society, or the community, owes its labor 
members a Living Wage in return for their social 
services as workers, but it has transferred the obli- 
gation to a special agency. The distributive func- 
tion of the industrial organism has been specialized. 
True, society has not, either in its political or indus- 
trial capacity, explicitly commanded the employer to 
pay a Living Wage, but this negligence does not 
release him from a duty that arises out of the very 
nature of the function that he has undertaken to 
perform. He accepts the task of social paymaster, 
and is morally bound to discharge it in accordance 
with the dictates of reason and justice. 

Finally, the employer's obligation may be stated 
in terms of social utility. As a social functionary 



he ought to perform his task in a manner consistent 
with social safety. Consequently, he is obliged to 
give his employees a wage that will enable them to 
live decently, to marry, and to bring up a family in 
conditions of reasonable comfort and security ; for 
when any considerable section of its members fails 
to reach this level, the security and the existence 
even of society is endangered. 

The last argument considers the worker's rights 
and interests as mere means to social well being. 
The second and third are fundamentally the same 
as the first, since they assume that the obligation to 
safeguard the laborer's right to a decent livelihood, 
and to discharge this one of society's responsibilities 
toward him, is a necessary corollary of the em- 
ployer's economic position. The last word of the 
ethical argument, therefore, is the reasonableness of 
assigning the duty of providing the laborer with a 
Living Wage to the employer, rather than to any 
other economic or social agency. If it be objected 
that this principle is too indefinite, the answer must 
be, none of the recognized titles of ownership rests 
on a more definite or more urgent basis. What jus- 
tification exists for John Brown's claim to the land 
that he has been the first to occupy ? or has bought ? 
or inherited? or to the crop that he has produced 
therefrom? And why should other men be de- 
nounced as unjust when they prevent him from 
enjoying these claims? In other words, why are 
these morally legitimate titles of property? No 
final answer can be given except that they are rea- 
sonable methods of distributing the common heritage 


of nature, of determining and concreting the general 
rights and obligations of men with regard to the 
common bounty of the earth. Under the wage-sys- 
tem the payment of a Living Wage by the employer 
is an equally reasonable method of concreting the 
laborer's general right to a decent livelihood. And 
the obligation binding the employer to perform this 
function is just as reasonable and valid as the 
obligation which constrains men to respect the tra- 
ditional titles of ownership. 

Men who deny that the employer is under this 
obligation may be comprised in two general classes : 
first, those who maintain that the terms of the labor 
contract constitute the sole measure of rights and 
duties; and, second, those who assert that the la- 
borer's productivity determines his valid claims in 
the matter of wages. To the former contention we 
can only answer that every free contract is not 
necessarily just. An agreement to rob or kill for a 
price is legitimate neither in morals nor in law. The 
man who consents to pay blackmail rather than 
suffer injury to his reputation enters a free con- 
tract, yet the other party to the contract is guilty 
of an act of injustice. When a body of consumers 
is forced to pay an extortionate price for a monopo- 
lized commodity, they are given the benefit of free 
contracts, which nevertheless all reasonable men 
pronounce unfair. Those in control of the monop- 
oly are condemned as unjust because they take an 
undue advantage of the necessities of their fellows. 
Now the employer who makes use of the dire need 
of the laborer in order to force him into a wage- 


contract that is incompatible with reasonable living, 
commits precisely the same offense ; for it cannot 
be maintained that the laborer is free to reject the 
terms offered and get his living in some other way. 
No such alternative exists practically. Individual 
workingmen may change their abode and their em- 
ployment, but other individuals must take their 
place. The class remains. While the present in- 
dustrial system exists every community must con- 
tain a body of laborers and a body of employers. 
And the members of both groups depend upon labor 
contracts for their livelihood. Hence, these con- 
tracts ought to be made in such a way that the nat- 
ural rights of the participants to a decent living will 
be provided for and safeguarded. This is a moral 
limitation imposed upon the wage-contract by the 
very nature of existing industrial institutions. 

The contention that the laborer ought to be re- 
warded according to his productivity may mean 
three different things. Productivity may be inter- 
preted as the value of the product that comes into 
being as the result of the activity of any particular 
laborer; as the productive power of one worker 
relatively to that of another; or, as the productive 
importance of labor in comparison with the other 
factors of production. Let us examine each inter- 
pretation separately. 

If the value of the laborer's product be taken as 
the just measure of his remuneration, he ought to, 
as in fact he usually does, receive an increase of 
wages when his product sells for a higher price. 
Yet he works no harder than before, turns out no 


more product than before. His additional compen- 
sation bears no relation whatever to any quality or 
achievement, physical or moral, of the laborer him- 
self. Now a theory of justice that measures a man's 
desert, his rights, by conditions for which he is in 
no wise responsible, and which takes no account of 
his human dignity, stands refuted as soon as it is 
stated. It may be a canon of expediency ; it is cer- 
tainly not a canon of justice. If, however, it be 
maintained that there is no obligation to pay the 
laborer more than the value of his product because 
there is no possibility of doing so, no objection can 
be offered; but this is merely a practical conclusion 
that would follow from any theory of industrial 
justice that might be adopted. It is consistent with 
the Living Wage principle, and with the assertion 
that the laborer ought not to be paid the value of his 

The argument from productivity in the second 
sense assumes that one man is paid more than an- 
other because he produces more, and contends that 
higher productive achievement is a valid reason for 
higher remuneration. But in most cases it is utterly 
impossible to measure the relative productivity of 
different classes of workers. Does the bookkeeper 
in the cotton factory produce more than the spinner ? 
Or the locomotive engineer more than the " section- 
hand"? In the factory as on the railway, both 
classes of workers are essential to the existence of 
the product, and their productive efforts have an 
organic character. One could not function success- 
fully without the other, and there is no portion of 


the finished product to which both have not in some 
measure contributed. Each is in his own order a 
cause of the whole product. Consequently, no part 
of it can be set apart as the exclusive creation of 
either. We cannot say that the bookkeeper gets 
more than the spinner because he produces more, 
for we do not and cannot know whether the assump- 
tion be correct. The difficulty is the same when we 
consider laborers in different industries. Do the 
skilled workers in an automobile factory produce 
more than the common laborers who pave streets? 
There is no third term by which the two products 
can as such be compared. A basis of comparison 
might be found in their relative general utility to 
society, but this is not, strictly speaking, a test of 
productivity. Besides, it would dictate that the 
street laborers ought to receive higher wages than 
the automobile makers. The relative productivity 
of different workers can be ascertained only in those 
cases in which all the conditions of work are pre- 
cisely alike, when, for example, men use the same 
kind of tools or machines. We can readily com- 
pare the products of two coal-heavers who are 
equipped with shovels of the same size, or of two 
operators who use the same kind of sewing machine,, 
or of two bricklayers who work in equally advan- 
tageous circumstances. When, however, the work- 
ing conditions vary, and especially when every por- 
tion of the product requires the activity of all the 
producers whom we wish to compare, we cannot tell 
to what extent one man is more productive than an- 
other. As a matter of fact, different kinds of labor 


are rewarded differently on account of differences 
in the conditions of supply and demand. Were 
bookkeepers as plentiful, relatively, as spinners their 
remuneration would be as low. 

The third interpretation of productivity as a meas- 
ure of industrial desert holds that labor, and conse- 
quently any particular group of laborers, is at 
present rewarded in conformity with its importance 
relatively to the other productive agents. The con- 
tention is evidently true if " productive importance " 
be taken to mean relative scarcity in the actual cir- 
cumstances of industry, for this is only another way 
of saying that labor's share of the product is fixed by 
the laws of supply and demand. When, as usually 
happens, this phrase is employed to describe in some 
vague way the relation of causality existing between 
labor and the product, the theory is as impossible 
of verification as the less ambiguous assertion that 
labor is remunerated according to the portion of the 
product that it creates in conjunction with the other 
factors. As we cannot determine how much of the 
joint product is due to each factor, so we cannot 
measure their relative importance in the work of 
production. The productive importance of the em- 
ployer is sometimes assumed to be indicated by the 
share of the product that he actually receives, but 
this inference from income to productivity is merely 
an ordinary instance of the logical fallacy known as 
" the vicious circle." * " What determines the em- 
ployer's remuneration ? " " His productive impor- 
tance." " How can the latter be ascertained ? " " By 

1 Cf. " The Social Problem," by John A. Hobson, p. 160. 



referring to his remuneration." Those who take the 
trouble to get behind formulas, and to examine 
the actual working of industrial forces, realize that 
the income of any factor depends upon its " indis- 
pensableness " and not on any proportion to its pro- 
ductive efficiency. 1 When undertaking ability was 
less plentiful than it is now, employers in competitive 
enterprises received larger rewards ; therefore, their 
productive importance was either exceeded by their 
former profits or is at present inadequately remuner- 
ated. Undoubtedly the employer is in most cases 
a more important productive factor than any single 
laborer, as is easily shown by comparing the respec- 
tive consequences of their withdrawal from an 
enterprise. The productive importance of different 
employers can likewise be partially measured by 
referring to the different results that are obtained 
when they direct production with the same quanti- 
ties and qualities of land, capital, and labor. But it 
is not possible to estimate the productive importance 
of any employer, efficient or inefficient, relatively to 
the productive importance of the entire labor force 
under his direction. Mr. Mallock has made an in- 
genious attempt to show that by far the greater part 
of the product of modern industry is due to mental 
ability (or simply Ability, as he writes it), and that 
labor gets more instead of less than it produces ; but 
he cannot be said to have conspicuously succeeded. 
He ignores almost entirely the advances in skill 
made by labor during the last century, and the 
vast differences of directive ability required and 

1 Cf. Smart, " The Distribution of Income," pp. 237, 238. 


displayed in different industrial enterprises; 
" ascribes " a certain portion of the product to 
labor, and says that labor must be " held to produce 
so much," when the question, in so far as it has any 
ethical interest, is one of objective fact, not of prac- 
tical expediency; and exaggerates the mental en- 
dowments of inventors, and does not sufficiently dis- 
tinguish between their achievements and those of 
the employing class. 1 

Even if the claim that labor is at present rewarded 
in proportion to its productivity in any sense of 
which the term is susceptible were irrefutably 
established, the conclusion that labor is justly re- 
munerated would not follow. " We might raise the 
question, whether a rule that gives to each man his 
product is, in the highest sense, just." 2 The ques- 
tion must be answered in the negative. While a 
man has an indisputable right to all the utilities that 
he creates with the aid of his own materials and 
without assistance from other men, his claim to be 
rewarded in proportion to his activity is by no 
means so clear when there is question of a joint 
product. In the latter case productivity would 
seem to be the lowest of all the titles of ownership. 
It is inferior to effort. Of two men who contribute 
to the creation of a common product and who have 
made equal efforts and sacrifices, why should the 
stronger, or more skillful or more intelligent receive 

1 See his " Labor and the Popular Welfare," passim ; 
and " Aristocracy and Evolution," Book III, ch. I. He has 
been effectively answered by Mr. Hobson in the " Contem- 
porary Review," August, 1898. 

2 Clark, " The Distribution of Wealth," p. 8. 



a greater recompense than his less efficient fellow? 
The latter has done his best, the former can say no 
more. It is not denied that achievement ought to 
be considered to some extent in apportioning a 
reward among cooperators, but it is maintained that 
our native sense of justice always dictates that the 
distribution should be made in accordance with indi- 
vidual merit, good will, self-sacrifice, conditions that 
are within the control of the workers, rather than 
aptitudes and qualities for which they are not per- 
sonally responsible. This is certainly the standard 
by which we hope to be judged in the Life Beyond. 
Measured by the rule of efforts and sacrifices, the 
laborer, generally speaking, has as large a claim to 
remuneration as the landowner, the employer, or the 
capitalist. Again, the title of productivity must 
give way to that of needs, which is the end to which 
all other titles are but means. The primary reason 
why men should own property of any kind is to be 
found in their wants. By these must all other claims 
to ownership be determined and conditioned. Since 
all men are equal as persons, the essential needs of 
personality are of equal moral validity in all. 
Hence, the person's right to the minimum of goods 
necessary to satisfy these fundamental needs is supe- 
rior to any of the merely secondary claims. 

When the employer cannot pay a Living Wage he 
is for the time being freed from actual obligation, 
as no one is morally bound to do the impossible. 
The contention that such a man ought to cease to be 
an employer will scarcely hold in the face of the 
hardship that he would thus undergo. A man's 



fundamental right to get a living on reasonable 
terms carries with it some kind of claim to remain 
in the economic position in which he has become 
established; and this claim will cease to exist only 
in the presence of grave contrary reasons. On the 
other hand, the inability of one or many employers 
to discharge the obligation will not free those who 
are better situated. The prosperous employer can- 
not exculpate himself on the ground that he is pay- 
ing as high wages as his neighbors. 1 

" Cannot pay a Living Wage" is, however, ex- 
tremely vague. To one it may mean that if he does 
so he will be unable to increase his personal expen- 
ditures, or better his social position ; to another, that 
the profits remaining will not be a fair remuneration 
for his skill, energy, and directive ability; to a 
third, that he will have nothing left with which to 
extend his business or make new investments; to a 
fourth, that he will not receive a fair rate of interest 
on his capital. The first three of these interpreta- 
tions are morally invalid because they imply a sub- 
ordination of the essential needs of the laborer to 
the non-essential needs of the employer. All the 
ends that the employer seeks to realize in these three 
ways lead ultimately to the satisfaction of wants 
that are superfluous relatively to his present stand- 
ard of living. Now employer and employee are 
equal in personal dignity, and their essential needs 
are of equal worth and moral importance. Conse- 
quently the essential needs of one are morally supe- 
rior to the accidental needs of the other. The la- 

1 Cf, Vermeersch, " Quaestiones de Justitia," pp. 579, 580. 


borer's need of the requisites of a decent and reason- 
able life is more important in the moral order than 
the employer's need of life's conveniences and super- 
fluities. If the individual's obligation to use and 
distribute the resources of the earth consistently 
with the rights of his neighbors thereto is more 
than a vague and empty formula, it surely means in 
the concrete that the employer is bound to distribute 
the product of industry and his personal income in 
such a way that his own secondary and unimportant 
wants shall not be preferred to the primary and vital 
needs of those who expend all their working time 
and energy under his direction and for his benefit. 

The industrial employer, the employer of men 
who produce for the market, has obviously a right 
to get a decent livelihood from his business. And 
this means not merely goods absolutely necessary 
for right living, but also conventional necessities. 
Since the latter vary according to a man's station 
the position that he holds socially and economically, 
and the scale of personal and family expenditure to 
which he has become accustomed, a decent living 
for the employer will, as a rule, include more of the 
good things of life than in the case of the laborer. 
In both cases it corresponds with the standard of 
life peculiar to the class. The absolute necessaries 
of life are approximately the same for employer 
and employee, namely, a reasonable minimum of 
food, clothing, shelter, education, and recreation; 
their conventional necessaries differ on account of 
the different ways of living to which they have be- 
come accustomed, and which they have come to 


regard as essential. Undoubtedly the employer 
would suffer a slighter hardship if his expenditure 
for things conventionally necessary were diminished 
by, say, ten percent, than would the laborer whose 
outlay for his conventional needs was curtailed in 
the same degree; yet the general statement remains 
true, that the loss of conventional necessities entails 
suffering upon both. Hence the rule above laid 
down does no injustice to the laborer, since it merely 
treats laborer and employer unequally in so far as 
they are unequal, that is, in regard to their habits of 
living, but treats them equally with reference to 
inconveniences that affect them equally. It is alto- 
gether just that the employer should retain a suf- 
ficient amount of the proceeds of his business to 
maintain himself and family in reasonable conform- 
ity with the standard of living that he has come to 
look upon as proper to his station. Until he has 
paid all his employees a Living Wage he ought to 
refrain from all costly expenditure for the purpose 
of amusement and recreation, and in general from 
everything that comes under the head of luxurious 
living. The term luxury is, indeed, very vague and 
very relative. No general rule can be framed that 
will distinguish sharply between luxuries and con- 
ventional necessities. Again, the different social 
classes in American life merge into one another by 
insensible gradations, so that men frequently regard 
the grade just above them rather than the one in 
which they actually live, as the standard to which 
their expenditures ought to conform. And yet, 
some general observations may be made which are 


sound and helpful. The employer who cannot at 
the same time pay a Living Wage to all his em- 
ployees and live in his customary manner, ought not 
to go beyond the moderate satisfaction of the phys- 
ical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual wants of him- 
self and his family. He ought to avoid all lavish 
feasting, all extravagant forms of amusement, and 
all ostentation in dress, equipage, and household 
appointments. His right to satisfy any of these 
wants yields to the right to satisfy any of these 
conditions of a decent livelihood. 

The claim of the employer to a fair rate of inter- 
est on his capital at the cost of a Living Wage for 
the laborers in his employ, likewise puts his non- 
essential needs above the essential needs of the lat- 
ter, and is consequently unsound. The right of 
capital to obtain interest is sometimes asserted in 
such a way as to indicate a belief that this is the 
supreme right in the field of distribution. Capital 
is personified. There should be no need to insist 
that capital is not a moral and rational being, and 
can have no moral claim to a share in the product. 
It is a condition of production, but not a producer 
in the same sense as the laborer and employer, nor 
has it any moral and rational needs to be supplied 
out of the results of production. Its claim to a por- 
tion of the product must be made on behalf of its 
owner and in terms of his rights. 

Now there are only three possible grounds upon 

which the owner of capital can, as such, defend a 

right to interest. They are productivity, service, 

and abstinence. Neither the first nor the second is 



fully convincing. Why should the stockholder in a 
manufacturing corporation who contributes no labor 
to the operation of the concern, get a share of the 
product in the form of interest ? " Because he owns 
some of the producing capital," is generally regarded 
as a sufficient answer. Yet it is merely a reassertion 
of the proposition that is to be proved. It is a bald 
begging of the question. 

The claim of service is likewise lacking in demon- 
strative value. Although the capitalist serves the 
community by putting his property at its disposal, 
his moral claim to a reward for a service that has 
cost him no labor nor sacrifice, is by no means clear. 
For centuries the Church refused to admit that the 
title of service constituted a valid claim to interest 
on money that was loaned. The man who saves a 
drowning millionaire performs a service which the 
latter regards as worth half a million dollars; yet 
the rescuer who should extort this sum would be 
placed by everybody on the same moral level as the 

The foregoing argument is not to be taken as a 
positive denial of all validity to the claims of pro- 
ductivity and service. It merely points out that 
their moral value has not yet been satisfactorily 

Abstinence or sacrifice in saving does seem to be 
an entirely valid title to interest. The man who 
saves money with the hope and on condition that 
he will obtain interest on his savings, looks upon 
saving as a sacrifice that can be adequately com- 
pensated only by the receipt of interest. So long as 


his capital is utilized in industry, he has a right to 
interest as the fair price of his sacrifice. However, 
it is very doubtful whether more than a small mi- 
nority of the present owners of capital have ever 
undergone this kind of sacrifice. The great major- 
ity would have saved without any hope of interest, 
either because they could not possibly have spent it 
all for current wants, or because they desired to 
provide a sum for future wants and contingencies. 
The former made no real sacrifice, while the latter 
would have regarded their sacrifice as fully offset 
by the assurance of a competence for later years. 

To put the matter in a few words, the man who 
would not have saved without the hope of interest 
has a right to interest on the ground of real sacrifice ; 
but the man who would have saved even if no inter- 
est were obtainable cannot derive from either the 
title of productivity or that of service more than a 
presumptive moral claim to interest. It is, however, 
a claim that is quite as reasonable as certain other 
claims to material goods which are never called into 
question. 1 

Howsoever strong, or weak, may be the moral 
basis of the capitalist's claim to interest, the claim 
itself is clearly inferior to the right of labor to a 
Living Wage. The relative strength of rights is 
determined by the needs that they serve. Since the 
capitalist can ordinarily supply his essential needs 
through his labor, the interest that he receives will 

1 The subjects discussed in the last few paragraphs are 
much more fully treated in chapters xii and xiii of the 
author's work, " Distributive Justice." The Macmillan 
Company; 1916. 

I2 7 


go to meet his less important needs. But the Living 
Wage of the laborer is required for the essentials 
of a livelihood. Therefore, the wage-right is supe- 
rior to the interest-right. The principle that the 
capitalist has no right to interest until all his labor 
force have received Living Wages, has been pro- 
claimed in the social reconstruction programs of the 
National Catholic War Council and the Federal 
Council of the Churches of Christ in America, and 
by liberal-minded capitalists, such as Otto Kahn, the 
great New York banker. 

The obligation that in private business rests upon 
the employer is distributed in a corporation, or joint- 
stock company, among all the shareholders. Since 
the direction of the business resides ultimately in 
them, they are the real employers, and they cannot 
reasonably shirk the responsibility of paying just 
wages. This responsibility falls in a particular man- 
ner upon the board of directors and the officers, but 
it extends in some degree to the owner of even one 
share of stock. Like the private employer with re- 
gard to the money that he has invested in his busi- 
ness, the stockholders of a corporation are morally 
bound to pay all the employees, including, of course, 
those who are actively engaged in its direction, a 
Living Wage before they pay themselves dividends. 
And it would seem that those shareholders whose 
labor of direction is confined to annual or semi- 
annual meetings, and who have no means of living 
except the dividends accruing to them, have a less 
urgent right to receive a decent livelihood therefrom 
than have the employees to obtain a Living Wage. 


The needs of the latter are no more important than 
the needs of the non-working stockholders, but they 
are associated with labor, personal effort, which is 
a stronger title of ownership than the productivity 
of capital or just sacrifices of saving. 

To sum up : the obligation to pay a Living Wage 
falls upon the employer as a reasonable consequence 
of his position in the economic organism. From this 
responsibility he cannot free himself by appealing 
to the labor contract or to the productivity of labor ; 
for the former is consistent with extortion, while 
the latter is usually unknowable, and is always infe- 
rior to needs as a canon of distribution. Inability 
to perform the obligation suspends it, but inability 
must not be so interpreted as to favor the super- 
fluous needs of the employer at the expense of the 
essential needs of the laborer. The employer's right 
to obtain interest on the capital that he has invested 
in his business is subordinate to the laborer's right 
to a Living Wage. 

NOTE TO SECOND EDITION. The claim of the 
employer to State aid whenever he is unable to pay 
a Living Wage and at the same time obtain interest 
on his investment, is unsound ethically as well as. 
economically. Competent employers will not need 
such assistance, and incompetent ones have no valid 
title to it. On the other hand, the employer who 
cannot make a living profit and also pay a Living 
Wage from his business, is not obliged to make up 
the latter from property with which he has no con- 
nection as an employer. 






The loan-capitalist and the landowner are under no prac- 
tical obligation to supplement directly the wages of the 
underpaid laborer. The consumer can discourage the pay- 
ment of insufficient wages by refusing to patronize the 
offending manufacturers and merchants. And he is mor- 
ally bound to do so. The meaning of " superfluous " 
goods. These ought to be given without reservation for 
the relief of the underpaid. Methods by which such dis- 
tribution could be carried out. 

The employer may fail to pay a Living Wage 
either because he cannot or because he will not. 
Does the obligation, thus unfulfilled, revert to other 
members of the community ? to whom ? and in what 
measure ? 

Undoubtedly a part of the responsibility of treat- 
ing the laborer justly is shared by the capitalist who 
has loaned money to the employer for use in his 
business, and by the landowner who has rented him 
land for the same purpose. They are beneficiaries 
of the laborer's exertion, and consequently are in- 
debted to him in a particular way ; they also receive 
a portion of the product of industry, and are thereby 


enabled, in many cases, to do something toward sup- 
plying what is wanting in the laborer's remunera- 
tion. Yet if the employer's failure to pay a Living 
Wage is not due to inability on his part, it seems 
sufficiently clear that the loan-capitalist and the land- 
owner have no direct obligation to make good the 
difference. In so far as their incomes surpass their 
reasonable needs, they are, of course, bound to make 
a righteous use of the excess ; but their economic 
position scarcely obliges them to do more than exert 
pressure upon the employer to compel him to dis- 
charge fully his wage-paying obligations. 

When, however, the employer is really unable to 
give all his employees the means of a decent liveli- 
hood, the right of the loan-capitalist and landowner 
to receive the product of their property in the form 
of interest and rent seems to be inferior to the right 
of the laborer to obtain a Living Wage. The latter 
has contributed his labor power, the former have 
contributed the use of their goods to the making of 
the common product. In the distribution of the 
product the claims of labor, personal effort, ought 
to be preferred to those of mere ownership in the 
product's material cause. Consequently, the em- 
ployer should be allowed and constrained to provide 
his employees with a Living Wage before returning 
rent to the landowner or interest to the loan-capital- 
ist. This seems to be the theoretical justice of the 
situation. An attempt to put it in practice would 
probably be followed by greater evils than those 
that are sought to be remedied. Let us assume that 
the landowner and the loan-capitalist do their share 


by instructing the employer to give them their por- 
tions of the product only after he has fully 
remunerated all the laborers. In a large propor- 
tion of cases they cannot know whether the residue 
is really insufficient to yield them the whole amount 
of rent and interest conditionally stipulated. The 
employer will in such circumstances be able to re- 
tain for himself what he owes to them. Even if he 
acts with entire honesty in this respect, he may, 
without being compelled to, continue to sell his 
product at a price that will render full payments of 
rent and interest impossible. To be sure, if the 
loan-capitalist and the landowner could always be 
certain that the employer did his best to make them 
a complete return for the use of their property, their 
obligations, as above outlined, would seem to be 
actual and concrete. As things are, however, their 
responsibility toward the underpaid laborer who 
works with their property must be discharged in 
some other way. 

When the employer's inability to pay a Living 
Wage is due to the low price at which he is com- 
pelled to sell his product rather than to his own 
incompetence, the chief beneficiary is, of course, the 
consumer. Yet the average consumer is wholly in- 
different to any responsibility toward the underpaid 
producers of the cheap goods that he so vigilantly 
and avidly seeks to secure. In this connection the 
following paragraph from the pen of Mr. W. S. 
Lilly is extremely suggestive : 

"One afternoon I chanced to meet in Regent 
Street three lady friends who had come up to town 


for shopping, and I remember their surprise and 
delight at finding in one of the establishments which 
they visited shirt blouses of a dainty kind, on sale 
at half-a-crown each. They purchased a dozen, and 
evidently regarded this cheapness as simply miracu- 
lous. They were so good as to invite me to dine 
with them that evening at a restaurant of which I 
will not mention the name, for I have no desire of 
advertising it. Nor indeed is that necessary. The 
perfection of its cuisine and the excellence of its 
wines have deservedly won for it a world-wide 
reputation. It is as deservedly celebrated for its 
high charges. I could not help noticing that on the 
occasion of which I speak my kind hostess received 
very little change from the five pound note which 
she tendered in payment for our dinner. The 
evening was fine: and after taking leave of my 
friends I set out to walk to South Kensington. 
When I reached Hyde Park Corner a carriage 
dashed rapidly out of the Park, and a young girl, 
who was walking just in front of me, was almost 
run over. Apparently she had not noticed it: for- 
tunately I had seized her by the arm and pulled her 
back in time. She seemed a good deal frightened 
and inclined to be hysterical. A constable came up, 
and I looked at him interrogatively, wondering 
whether she was quite sober. He caught my mean- 
ing and after a swift glance at her, said: * No, sir, 
it's not drink; it's hunger. If she sits down for a 
bit she will pull herself together/ He helped her 
to a seat just inside the Park and left her there, 
after a minute, murmuring something which I did 



not quite catch about sending someone to her. The 
girl said to me : * Thank you for saving me ; I was 
nearly killed, I think ' ; and she shuddered. She 
was a slight, delicate-looking creature, of plaintively 
prepossessing appearance, neatly dressed, and quiet 
in manner. I replied : * Yes, you had a narrow 
escape; now that you have recovered from your 
fright, shall I put you into a hansom and send you 
home ? ' ' Thank you,' she answered, ' but I mustn't 
go back yet : I have come out to try to earn a little 
money; I spent my last shillings in buying those 
shoes to come out in, and I owe my landlady a fort- 
night's rent: I haven't been able to get any work 
lately.' I inquired what she worked at. She told 
me she made ladies' shirt blouses, but could not live 
on what she earned in that way; she was paid four 
shillings for making a dozen : it was the usual rate ; 
she worked for Messrs. , mentioning the trades- 
men whose shop my fair friends had visited that 
afternoon. It is a dictum of Renan that the miracu- 
lous is the unexplained ; and this was the explanation 
of those miracles of cheapness at which my friends 
had marvelled." 1 

The obligation of the consumer toward the under- 
paid laborer involves two questions : can he do any- 
thing to bring about better wages ? and is he morally 
bound to make use of whatever power he possesses 
in this direction? 

Since all production and trade are carried on with 
a view to the wants of the consumer, the latter holds 

1 " The Cost of Cheapness," " The Fortnightly Review," 
April, 1905. 


the dominant position in industry. Goods will be 
produced of such quality, in such amounts, and 
under such conditions of employment as he effec- 
tively demands ; that is, in accordance with his 
wishes plus his readiness to pay the necessary costs. 
If he says to the manufacturer or to the merchant, 
" unless you pay your employees a Living Wage, I 
will not buy your goods," his terms will be accepted. 
Consequently an organization embracing the major- 
ity of consumers, and employing agents to ascertain 
the wages that have been paid for the production of 
the various commodities on the market and the 
prices for which the latter must sell in order that 
the producers may be decently remunerated, could 
soon put an end to the evil of underpaid labor in 
industrial employments. While an association of 
such magnitude is not inherently impossible, it is 
clearly impracticable, or at least so unlikely as to 
render serious consideration of it a waste of time. 
As things are, the consumer who wishes to discour- 
age low wages must act individually or as a member 
of local and incomplete organizations. When the 
goods that he wishes to buy can be obtained from 
manufacturers and dealers that treat their employees 
fairly, he can patronize these in preference to firms 
that are unfair. How is he to distinguish between 
the two classes of employers? Not infrequently the 
necessary information will come to him casually and 
through various unrelated channels ; more often per- 
haps it will be available through the systematic work 
of Labor Unions and the Consumer's League. The 
former affix their Union Label to those goods that 



have been produced in accordance with their stand- 
ard of remuneration, hours, workshop conditions, 
etc. The Consumer's League also has a Label 
which it puts upon articles manufactured in the con- 
ditions that it regards as satisfactory, and a " White 
List " of merchants who treat their employees fairly. 
It may be assumed, therefore, that the producers of 
goods that bear any of these marks of approval are 
receiving, if not a Living Wage, at least a nearer 
approach to it than their fellows in the same employ- 
ments. Purchasers who call for these goods, and 
especially those who affiliate themselves to the Con- 
sumer's League, will contribute very materially to- 
ward the encouragement of fair employers and the 
discouragement of the unfair. 

Is the consumer morally bound to exercise such 
discrimination in making his purchases? He is not 
directly responsible for low prices and low wages, 
for he takes no active part in the making of either. 1 
Yet he encourages the continuation of existing bad 
conditions when he seeks out and patronizes the 
dealers in cheap goods, regardless of the wages that 
have been paid to the producers. The fact that he 
is not primarily responsible does not acquit him of 
all responsibility and all obligation ; for, as Dr. Cun- 
ningham observes : " There is always this double 
responsibility to be looked to, responsibility for not 
doing our best to cure the evil, and responsibility 
for its existence." 2 If a Living Wage is to prevail 
in industry the consumer must provide the means 

1 Cf. Webb, " Industrial Democracy," pp. 671-673, ist ed. 

2 "The Use and Abuse of Money," p. 157. 



of paying it. This is a function that he cannot 
shirk or shift to others. He is obliged to pay a fair 
price for the goods that he buys, and a fair price 
necessarily means one that will enable the producers 
to be decently remunerated. This elementary and 
fundamental obligation is indisputable : the practical 
question concerns the form that the obligation as- 
sumes when a combination of forces, partly within 
and partly without the control of the consumer, has 
brought or threatens to bring wages below the mini- 
mum of justice. Suppose the consumer finds him- 
self so placed that the issue depends upon his action : 
if he buys goods from A all the laborers will get a 
Living Wage ; if he patronizes B who is selling 
more cheaply they must continue to be underpaid, 
since the returns are not sufficient to give them more. 
Here there cannot be a shadow of doubt concerning 
his responsibility to the laborer, and his obligation to 
make his purchase from A. This hypothetical case 
is in some measure realized to-day whenever a con- 
sumer finds it within his power to choose between 
merchants who deal in goods that have been pro- 
duced under humane conditions and merchants 
whose goods have involved injustice to labor. The 
difference is one of degree only ; for the actual con- 
sumer can do something toward the abolition of in- 
sufficient wages. What he can reasonably do in this 
direction he is morally bound to do, and the same is 
true of the merchant in relation to different manu- 
facturers. The effects of any single individual may 
seem insignificant, but the combined actions of all 
who are in a position to exercise the discrimination 



here advocated would lead to very large results. 
Besides, the reform of existing conditions will not 
be accomplished by any single agency or method; 
the cooperation of many and diverse forces, persons, 
and classes will be essential. Among all the classes 
that might contribute to this end, the consumer is 
perhaps the least conscious of his power and respon- 
sibility. In the simpler economic relations of the 
Middle Ages, when the consumer usually dealt' di- 
rectly with the maker of the goods that he bought, 
the obligation to pay a price that would cover fair 
wages was easily perceived and acknowledged. 
To-day he is so far removed from the original pro- 
ducer, the causes of low wages are so various, and 
the whole mechanism of industry is so anarchic, that 
he seldom gives a thought to the relation between 
himself and the man who ultimately makes cheap 
goods possible. Yet to divide and obscure respon- 
sibility is not to destroy it ; consequently the con- 
sumer is morally answerable for insufficient wages 
in proportion to his power to make reasonable efforts 
toward bettering them. 

Thus far of the obligation of those persons who 
are directly benefited by the toil of the underpaid 
laborer, and who stand in more or less immediate 
economic relations to him. Let us consider briefly 
that class of persons who are bound to the insuf- 
ficiently remunerated workers, as to other sections 
of the unfortunate, by the general duty of charity 
or beneficence. These are the possessors of super- 
fluous goods, the rich. From St. Paul x to St. 

1 " Let your abundance supply their want," II Cor. VIII, 14. 



Basil 1 ; from St. Basil to St. Thomas of Aquin 2 
and from St. Thomas to Pope Leo XIII, 3 the Chris- 
tian teaching has been that superfluous goods are a 
trust to be administered for the benefit of the needy. 
The classification of private possessions, or private 
income, made by St. Thomas indicates the meaning 
that all Catholic authorities attach to the phrase, 
" superfluous goods." A man's goods, he says, may 
be divided into three categories : first, those that are 
absolutely necessary to sustain life: second, those 
that are required for the proper maintenance of 
social position : third, those that are left over after 
both of these ends have been met. 4 It is not easy, 
however, to mark off the last named possessions 
those that are " superfluous " from those of the 
second category. The majority of men can readily 
persuade themselves that their whole income is 
needed either to support their present style of living, 
to provide liberally for the future wants of them- 
selves and their families, or to better their present 
condition. "Bettering their condition," means for 
some men the indefinite accumulation of wealth 
merely for the sake of the consequent power and 
prestige, and for some women the progressive abil- 

1 " Are you not a despoiler, since you have made your 
own that which you have received to distribute?" Migne, 
" Patrologia Graecca," vol. xxxi, col. 275. 

2 " To give alms from one's superfluous goods is strictly 
commanded," " Summa Theologica," 2a. 2ae., q. 32, art. i. 

3 " When one's necessities have been fairly supplied, and 
one's position fairly considered, one is bound to give to the 
indigent out of that which remains," Encyclical, " On the 
Condition of Labor." 

4 " Summa Theologica," 2a. 2ae., q. 32, art. 6. 



ity to outshine their neighbors in extravagant enter- 
tainment, dress, equipage, etc. It is admitted on 
all sides that luxury is reprehensible, but the prin- 
ciple of the relativity of luxury has been converted 
into the doctrine that luxury is merely expenditure 
in excess of income. According to this interpreta- 
tion, all incomes, except possibly a few of the very 
largest, can be legitimately utilized in maintaining 
or expanding the social position of their recipients. 
Utterly insignificant, therefore, is the number of 
persons who possess superfluous goods, and are held 
to the duty of almsgiving or philanthropy. This 
apotheosis of groveling selfishness is not, however, 
peculiar to our own time. In the last quarter of the 
seventeenth century, Pope Innocent XI condemned 
the following propositions : " It is scarcely possible 
to find among people engaged in worldly pursuits, 
even among kings, goods that are superfluous to 
social position. Therefore hardly anyone is bound 
to give alms from this source." If these doctrines 
were false then they are a hundred times false 
to-day. In a general way it may be said that all 
of that portion of a man's income is superfluous that 
cannot be used for the satisfaction of his reasonable 
wants. As unreasonable must be regarded all wants 
whose satisfaction involves injury to health, mind, 
or character. Consequently, excessive quantities 
of food or drink; dyspepsia-breeding delicacies; 
clothing, dwellings and household furnishings that 
satisfy the desire to outdo one's neighbors in costli- 
ness and showiness, instead of increasing comfort 
or developing the esthetic sense ; indefinite amounts 


of idleness, amusements, entertainments, and travel, 
are all unreasonable and unjustifiable. They all 
spell deterioration and debasement, the pampering 
of what is lowest in man at the expense of what is 
highest. Good clothes and good houses are legiti- 
mate and useful inasmuch as they promote comfort, 
self-respect, and the appreciation of the beautiful; 
but they are clearly harmful to character when they 
respond to the vulgar desire to excel in what one 
has rather than in what one is or what one does. 
Recreation, amusement, social diversion, entertain- 
ment, and travel are all helpful within certain nar- 
row limits ; when they take up more than a small 
portion of a person's time and attention they be- 
come not merely useless but demoralizing. Indeed, 
the amount of money that can be expended for the 
conveniences of life, the ornamental and hedonistic 
side of life, consistently with a due regard for 
health, mind, and character, is very much smaller 
than the majority of men, rich and poor, habitually 
assume. And everything beyond this belongs in 
the category of superfluous goods. 

Is a man obliged to devote the whole of his super- 
fluous goods or income to works of benevolence? 
Mr. Andrew Carnegie answers in the affirmative. 
" This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of 
wealth : to set an example of modest, unostentatious 
living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide 
moderately for the legitimate wants of those depend- 
ent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all 
surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust 
funds, which he is called to administer, and strictly 



bound as a matter of duty to administer in the man- 
ner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to pro- 
duce the most beneficial results for the community 
the man of wealth thus becoming the mere trus- 
tee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to 
their service his superior wisdom, experience, and 
ability to administer, doing for them better than they 
would or could do for themselves." * The Rever- 
end L. Garriguet is substantially of the same opin- 
ion : " A man is obliged to give to the poor all his 
superfluous goods. ... To keep back a portion of 
them, even an inconsiderable portion, is to go against 
the order of Providence and to retain for self what 
ought to benefit the neighbor." 2 The position of 
these writers seems to be in harmony both with the 
law of the Gospel and the dictates of reason. Cath- 
olic moralists of authority generally deal with the 
matter somewhat more precisely. They divide 
human distress into three classes: extreme, grave, 
and ordinary. A person is said to be in extreme 
need when he is so placed that he cannot, morally 
speaking, escape death, or some almost equivalent 
evil, such as loss of health or of limb, unless he is 
assisted by others; in grave necessity, when perils 
of this magnitude are not actually imminent but 
merely probable, or when things that are necessary 
cannot be procured without great difficulty; in 
ordinary need, when extreme or grave evils can be 
avoided by reasonable personal effort, or when minor 
inconveniences must be suffered continuously if 

141 The Gospel of Wealth," p. 15. 
2 " La propriete privee," tome II, 

pp. 40, 42. 


assistance come not from without. 1 The author- 
ities that we are considering are not agreed as 
to the proportion of superfluous goods that ought 
to be given for the relief of ordinary need; many 
of them say that " something " must be given ; 
others, that each possessor should give as much 
as would be sufficient to remove all such need 
if all other possessors gave proportionately ; others, 
that two per cent of a person's income should be 
so expended; and still others, that two per cent of 
one's superfluous goods would satisfy the obliga- 
tion. They seem to be virtually unanimous, how- 
ever, in maintaining that persons having superfluous 
goods are morally bound to give away as much of 
these as is required to relieve all extreme and grave 
need. 2 Practically, this would seem to mean that a 
man is bound to devote his surplus income unreserv- 
edly to the alleviation of such cases of extreme or 
grave need as come under his notice. Now it can 
scarcely be doubted that a large section, perhaps a 
majority of the laborers who get less than a Living 
Wage are in grave need as this phrase is understood 
by the moral theologians ; for to be without the 
minimum requisites of decent and humane living is 
certainly as great an evil as the inability to live, 
according to one's social position, which the theo- 
logians use to illustrate their meaning. " Necessi- 
tas gravis" is not too strong to describe the distress 
endured by persons whose habitual condition is to 

1 Cf. Lehmkuhl, " Theologia Moralis," vol. ii. No. 601. 

2 Cf . Bouquillon, " De Virtuitibus Theologicis," pp. 343, 


be insufficiently fed, clothed, housed, and provided 
against sickness and old age. Consequently the doc- 
trine of the moral theologians seems to be in sub- 
stantial accord with the views of Mr. Carnegie and 
Father Garriguet. 

Obviously the obligation of distributing super- 
fluous goods among the underpaid workers would 
not, except in extreme cases, be wisely discharged 
by direct gifts of money. These would tend not 
only to pauperize the recipients but to deter the em- 
ployer and the consumer from making any effort to 
improve existing wage conditions. Inefficient re- 
muneration can be effectively supplemented by phi- 
lanthropy only through methods that reach this end 
indirectly. A few such methods may be mentioned 
here. The underpaid could be financially assisted 
to organize and maintain Labor Unions. " The 
great problem of poverty," says John A. Hobson, 
" resides in the conditions of the low-skilled work- 
man. To live industrially under the new order he 
must organize. He cannot organize because he is 
so poor; so ignorant; so weak. Because he is not 
organized he continues to be poor, ignorant, and 
weak. Here is a great dilemma, of which whoever 
shall have found the key will have done much to 
solve the problem of poverty." 1 Two of these 
obstacles to organization, namely, poverty and weak- 
ness, would be very considerably reduced if means 
were available for the support of organizers, the 
renting of halls for meetings, the maintenance of a 
reserve fund, and for various other expenditures 
1 " Problems of Poverty," p. 227. 


that are essential to efficient organization. Then, 
there is the matter of industrial education, provision 
for which is so meagre in America, and so inferior 
to that of some European countries. 1 Greater op- 
portunities of industrial training would enable many 
young persons to rise who under present conditions 
must enter the overcrowded ranks of the unskilled, 
and thus diminish both the number of and the com- 
petition among the underpaid. In the third place, 
attention may be called to the unlimited amount of 
good that could be accomplished through the build- 
ing and maintenance of hospitals for the treatment 
of insufficiently remunerated laborers and their fam- 
ilies. Sickness always means distress, and it comes 
at some time or other to all ; but among the poor it 
is exceptionally frequent and exceptionally burden- 
some and disastrous. " Unnecessary disease and 
death are mainly active in bringing misery to the 
working classes and especially to those in poverty. 
The well-to-do classes are relatively free from pre- 
ventable, disease-producing conditions of work and 
of living." " To the poor sickness means more than 
illness. It means misery of the severest kind." 
" Sickness assumes a new and more terrible mean- 
ing when one realizes that the mass of wage-earning 
families are pathetically dependent upon some one 
person's health." " It is a fertile and lively cause 
of poverty, constantly active and supremely power- 
ful." " Among 10,000,000 well-to-do persons the 

1 Cf . " Labor Problems," by Adams and Sumner, ch. XI ; 
The Seventeenth Annual Report of the Commissioner of 
Labor and vol. xxiii of U. S. Consular Reports, " Industrial 
Education and Industrial Conditions in Germany." 



number of yearly deaths is probably not more than 
100,000; among the highest class of wage earners 
the number is probably not less than 150,000; and 
among the poorest, or those in poverty, the number 
is probably not less than 350,000." x Adequate hos- 
pital accommodations and provision for efficient 
nursing in the home, would mitigate and lessen these 
evils indefinitely. Finally, there is a method that 
would perhaps be more direct and more immediately 
fruitful than any of those already mentioned. " The 
overcrowding of the population on the acre in cer- 
tain sections of Chicago exceeds that of the densest 
portions of London. In New York the conditions 
are three times as bad as they are in London." 
" There are about 360,000 dark rooms in Greater 
New York." 2 An investigation made a few years 
ago in Boston showed that twelve per cent, of the 
total number of persons in rented tenements, or 
37,613 persons, lived in habitations " having poor or 
bad outside sanitary conditions." 3 From the tables 
of the Sixth and Seventh Annual Reports of the 
Commissioner of Labor it is seen that out of 2,954 
families in the cotton and woolen industries 538 
lived in houses the average size of which was less 
than four rooms, and that only 592 out of 1,782 
families in the iron and steel industries occupied 
dwellings averaging four rooms or more each. 
Considered from the viewpoint of comfort, health, 
or morality, the housing of working people consti- 

1 From chapter IV of Robert Hunter's " Poverty." 

" Poverty," pp. 342-344- 

3 Eighth Special Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 
p. 421. 



tutes one of the most acute and difficult of our mod- 
ern social problems. It provides a most fruitful 
field for philanthropic and charitable effort. Money 
expended to enable the underpaid laborers to be- 
come the possessors and owners of decent, com- 
fortable, and sanitary homes would contribute more 
effectively to their permanent economic and moral 
betterment than any other work of benevolence that 
could be undertaken. The worker would not be 
utterly helpless ; he would have at least a place of 
shelter and a foothold in the struggle for existence. 
The resulting gain in health, energy, courage, and 
ambition would aid him very materially in resisting 
the forces that threaten to press him down, and in 
his attempts to rise above his present level. This is 
a consideration of the gravest importance ; for in the 
words of Professor Walker : " Nothing, economically 
speaking, can save industrial society from progres- 
sive degradation except the spirit and the power in 
the working classes to resist being crowded down." x 
In these methods the loan capitalist and the land- 
owner who profit directly by the existence of 
insufficient wages will find ample opportunity to dis- 
charge the obligations that arise out of this condi- 
tion. And their obligations would seem to be 1 
graver than the obligation resting upon the man of 
wealth who stands in no such relation to the under- 
paid laborer. The duty of the latter is solely one 
of charity, while the duty of the loan-capitalist and 
the landowner seems, as already explained, to par- 
take of the nature of justice. 

1 " Elements of Political Economy," p. 266. 


NOTE TO SECOND EDITION. To say that the em- 
ployer is obliged to forego interest on his investment 
until he has paid a Living Wage, while the loan- 
capitalist is free from such obligation, is, indeed, to 
put the former at a disadvantage ; but the balance is 
restored in the statement that the loan-capitalist is 
obliged to help the needy laborers in some other way. 




The limitation of their number by the underpaid. It 
would increase the demand for their kind of labor, but in 
the concrete it means immoral practices and anti-social 
consequences. And it misplaces the responsibility for low 
wages. To increase productive efficiency, and therefore 
wages, is impracticable, except for a few individuals. Sav- 
ing and total abstinence could raise but a small section of 
the underpaid to the level of a Living Wage. Organiza- 
tion, while most effective among the better-paid, can accom- 
plish much even for the poorest-paid. 

Having considered the obligations of all the other 
economic classes relatively to the right to a Living 
Wage and to the existence of insufficient wages, let 
us glance briefly at the responsibility and obligation 
of the laborer himself. What can the underpaid 
worker do to raise himself to the plane of a decent 
livelihood ? 

A remedy for low wages that has for a long time 
been recommended to the laborer, especially by econ- 
omists, is the practice of what is somewhat euphe- 
mistically termed " sexual self-restraint." x For- 
merly it was preached to all sections of the laboring 

1 Cf . Malthus, " Essay on Population," Bk. IV, chs. I-IV ; 
Roscher, "Political Economy," sec. 163; Mill, "Principles 
of Political Economy," Bk. II, ch. XII; Hadley, "Eco- 
nomics," sees. 355-357- 



population, but it seems to be no longer thought 
necessary to the welfare of the better-paid classes. 
All the evidence at hand seems to show that these 
reproduce much less rapidly than the poorest 
classes. 1 Throughout Northwestern Europe there 
has occurred during the last thirty years a steady 
decline in the birth-rate, but only among those work- 
ers who are above the level of bare subsistence. If 
every-day observation may be relied upon, the same 
conditions obtain in America. It is the more pros- 
perous laborers that are consciously restricting their 
numbers, by marrying later and by reducing the 
size of their families. While denying that the 
larger comforts enjoyed by the better-paid are the 
cause of the lower birth-rate prevailing among them, 
President Hadley admits that high comfort and low 
birth-rate commonly go together. 2 It would seem 
that the economically degraded propagate rapidly 
through utter lack of ambition and a feeling of hope- 
lessness. 3 The result is that their kind of labor, 
unskilled labor, continues to be excessively plentiful 
relatively to the demand for it. Hence the vital 
importance of lessening its supply through a dimin- 
ished birth-rate. 

Considered apart from its moral and social con- 
sequences, this remedy would undoubtedly be highly 
efficacious. Other conditions remaining the same, 
the wages of a group fall, or tend to fall, at every 
addition to its membership, and rise, or tend to rise, 

1 See the very significant statistics cited in " Industrial 
Democracy," pp. 632-642, ist ed. 

" Economics," sec. 57. 
3 Walker, " Elements of Political Economy," p. 267. 



whenever increasing supply fails to keep pace with 
increasing demand. If the laborers in the lowest- 
paid groups should confine the number of their off- 
spring within sufficiently narrow limits, the genera- 
tion succeeding to their tasks would certainly be 
able to command living wages. It is a simple ques- 
tion of the quantitative relation between demand and 
supply. Walker was so thoroughly convinced of 
the necessity and utility of the measure that he 
recommended the strengthening and development of 
any economic desire that would crowd out the desire 
to propagate. " Almost anything is better than that 
the desire to propagate should not be, by some cause, 
restrained." x 

As to the morality of this recommendation, it 
must be noted in the first place that the laborer is 
not, as is so frequently assumed, bound by any obli- 
gation of justice to follow it. The man who marries 
and brings into the world children whom he cannot 
maintain in the minimum conditions of decency, will 
sometimes sin against prudence, but he violates no 
rights, either of his wife, his offspring, or his fellow 
laborers of the group to which he belongs. His 
wife freely consents to the union; his unborn chil- 
dren have no rights sufficiently potent to annul his 
right of fatherhood ; and the right of his fellow 
workingmen to the larger advantages that they 
would obtain if fewer children were born to the 
group, is inferior to his right to become the head of 
a family. Indeed, it is doubtful whether even char- 
ity toward his children or his fellows obliges the 

1 " Elements of Political Economy," p. 296. 


laborer to forego the advantages and consolations 
of family life in order that the hand of social injus- 
tice may fall less heavily upon them. It would seem 
that charity does not bind at the cost of such great 
personal inconvenience. 

Generally speaking, the underpaid laborer is not 
only not obliged to abstain from or indefinitely post- 
pone marriage, or to limit the number of his 
offspring, but is under obligation to do the very 
opposite. Theoretically and hypothetically, these 
methods of preventing an over-supply of low-paid 
laborers are excellent ; human nature being what it 
is, they mean in actual life immoral practices and 
anti-social consequences. The great majority of 
men find it extremely difficult to forego marriage or 
deliberately to postpone it for a long time, and 
remain chaste. No man who is acquainted with the 
lessons of history and observant of the ordinary and 
obvious facts of the life about him will question this 
statement. The practice of limiting the number of 
children is immoral because in the overwhelming 
majority of cases it is accomplished by means of 
unhealthful and unnatural actions. Reputable phy- 
sicians are unanimous in pronouncing these disgust- 
ing devices a serious menace to health, while the 
moralist condemns them as frequently criminal, i.e., 
the murder of the unborn offspring, and always per- 
verse and degrading. They are perverse, inasmuch 
as they defeat the primary end of marriage, conflict 
with the standard of action decreed by nature, and 
permit the beast in man to triumph over his higher 
self ; and they are degrading, inasmuch as they bru- 


talize the most sacred of marital relations, convert- 
ing husband and wife from co-workers with the 
Creator into instruments of mutual gratification. 

These precautionary measures are hurtful to 
society because they promote egotism and enervat- 
ing self-indulgence among all classes, the unmarried, 
the parents, and the children and because they por- 
tend a stagnant or even a declining population. The 
average man who refuses to marry, or who indef- 
initely postpones marriage from a disinclination to 
assume its burdens or a love of personal " independ- 
ence," deprives himself of one of the most effective 
means of developing the finer side of character. 
He becomes self-centered and unsympathetic, and, 
generally speaking, is a poorer type of citizen than 
the man who becomes the head of a family before 
he reaches middle age. Only in the family is it 
possible for the majority of men to develop those 
social feelings that are essential to the welfare of a 
democratic society. And the deliberate restriction 
of the number of offspring fosters in the parents a 
love of material goods and a self-indulgence which 
are fatal to moral and intellectual improvement, 
while it results in children who are over-indulged 
and under-disciplined, and who as men and women 
will be even more devoted than their parents to 
selfish and materialistic ideals. As President Roose- 
velt declared in his famous letter on " race suicide," 
and later on in his address to a meeting of mothers : 
" If the men of the nation are not anxious to work 
in many different ways, with all their might and 
strength, and ready and able to fight at need, and 


anxious to be fathers of families, and if the women 
do not recognize that the greatest thing for any 
woman is to be a good wife and mother, why, that 
nation has cause to be alarmed about its future." 
" The way to give a child a fair chance in life is 
not to bring it up in luxury, but to see that it has 
the kind of training that will give it strength of 
character." The practice of the small-family cult 
tends inevitably to a society whose members will be 
incapable of that degree of self-sacrifice without 
which mental and moral progress are impossible; 
nay, more, to a society that will be mentally, morally, 
and physically decadent. The disastrous effects of 
the practices that we are considering on the move- 
ment of population are already manifest. A noted 
economist had advocated the importation of French 
Canadians to replenish the national stock of France. 
According to Sidney and Beatrice Webb, " the dan- 
ger to be apprehended in Northwestern Europe is 
not over-population at all, but a deliberate restric- 
tion of population by the prosperous, more intelli- 
gent, and more thrifty sections." 1 The low 
birth-rate among families of native American pa- 
rentage, to which writers have frequently called 
attention of late, is nothing less than startling. 
" The rate of child-birth has been decreasing . . . 
with astonishing rapidity . . . among the native 
American -born of our population, until it has 
reached a minimum ; the number of children to the 
native American family of all classes (and in this 
lies the danger) being less than it is in any other 

1 " Industrial Democracy," p. 641, 2d ed. 


country, France even not excepted, which has long 
been known to be at the point of stagnation. . . . 
Less than two surviving offspring to reproduce the 
race for all native-American marriages." * Nor is 
this the whole story. Notwithstanding the asser- 
tions of apologists for the foreign-born couples, 
honest and intelligent observation shows that a con- 
siderable and rapidly growing section of these are 
zealous imitators of the example set by the native- 
born. Let the reprehensible practice be, as some 
of the economists urge, generally adopted by the 
underpaid workers, native and foreign-born, and 
we shall soon be compelled to contemplate a sta- 
tionary if not a declining population. 

Even from the purely economic point of view, the 
remedy under discussion is of questionable value. 
" Slow growth of population and quick growth of 
capital," says Professor Clark, " offer the conditions 
of rapidly increasing welfare for the working 
classes." 2 This statement ignores the fact that the 
desire to become the head of a family and the 
necessity of providing for wife and offspring, are 
two very strong incentives to the expenditure of pro- 
ductive energy and the accumulation of capital. On 
the other hand, the selfishness fostered by aversion 
to marriage and parenthood tends naturally toward 
indolence and inertia. 

The preaching of the doctrine of " sexual self- 
restraint " hinders a proper appreciation by the 

1 Dr. George J. Engelmann in " Popular Science 
Monthly," June, 1903. 

2 " Publications of the American Academy of Political 
and Social Science," No. 3, p. 22. 



public of the true character and causes of the evil 
of insufficient wages, and obscures the responsibility 
of society and the necessity of social action. 1 It 
likewise soothes the consciences of those individuals 
who are at fault, and shifts the blame to the shoul- 
ders of the innocent. Professor Ingram tells us 
that the teaching of Malthus found favor in certain 
quarters because it " tended to relieve the rich and 
powerful from responsibility for the condition of 
the working classes, by showing that the latter had 
chiefly themselves to blame, and not either the negli- 
gence of superiors or the institutions of the coun- 
try." : A similar statement would hold true of 
some of the advocates of the milder form of Mal- 
thusianism that is preached to-day. 

It is sometimes asserted that the underpaid la- 
borer could secure an increase of remuneration by 
increasing his productive efficiency. Let him per- 
form more effectively his present task, and also 
endeavor to fit himself for something higher. The 
adoption of the former practice would mean an 
addition to the profits of the business, and the pos- 
sibility of additional compensation for the workers. 
The employer might, indeed, insist on retaining all 
the extra gain, but he could not resist the temptation 
to increase the total additional profit by enlarging 
the number of his employees. Thus a rise in wages 
would be inevitable, owing to the rise in the demand 
for labor. As the theory is frequently put, the 
laborer would get more because he produced more. 

1 Cf . Maurice Block, " Les progres," p. 578. 

2 " History of Political Economy," p. 121. 



The first objection to this proposal is drawn from 
the fact that a large proportion of the low-paid 
workers are physically unable to put forth greater 
productive energy ; in their case increased efficiency 
must be related to better wages as effect rather than 
as cause. Secondly, the attempt would be almost 
wholly ineffective unless it were made by all, or at 
least, by a majority of the laborers concerned; 
otherwise the increased competition for labor among 
employers would not be sufficient to cause a general 
rise in remuneration. The gains resulting from 
individual and isolated efforts to increase productive 
efficiency would be nearly all secured by individual 
employers. Now to assume that the great majority 
of the underpaid workers could be induced simul- 
taneously to enlarge their productive output, is to 
look for a unanimity of action that no practical man 
would venture to hope for in the case of any other 
social group. The first condition of the success of 
any such attempt would be a strong and numerically 
complete organization ; but if this class of laborers 
were thoroughly organized they could probably 
obtain a Living Wage without increasing their pro- 
ductive efficiency. Even if the desired unanimity 
of action were secured the results would perhaps be- 
disappointing. The enlarged product might be 
more than sufficient to provide all the producers 
with a Living Wage if it sold at the old prices, but 
experience shows that this condition would not be 
realized. The lower selling price of the product 
might justify only a very slight increase in wages. 
All would depend on the ratio that would exist be- 



tween the reduction in price and the increase in 
output. Thus, a mere statement of the limitations 
of this proposal is sufficient to expose its weakness 
as a general remedy. 

The recommendation that underpaid laborers 
should fit themselves for some higher kind of work 
has some value in the case of individuals. Un- 
doubtedly there are many men in the ranks of the 
unskilled who could accomplish something in this 
direction if only they were a little more energetic, 
a little more ambitious, a little more hopeful. The 
obstacles to be overcome, however, bulk so large in 
the eyes of the worker that the plan is practicable 
for only a few. 

The practice of thrift and saving is another sug- 
gestion that is frequently urged. Speaking gen- 
erally, this advice is good for all classes of men, 
but only within certain limits. There is such a 
thing as overthriftiness and excessive saving, which 
are harmful alike to the individuals practising them 
and to the activity of production and industry. 
Waiving this consideration, we can readily admit the 
great advantage to be derived from the possession 
of a personal reserve fund. It helps the working- 
man to change his employment or his location when- 
ever he becomes aware of better opportunities else- 
where, enables him to remain idle rather than imme- 
diately accept the terms offered by the employer, 
and increases his bargaining power generally. For 
the majority of the underpaid, however, saving to 
a degree that would be effective supposes an unusual 
measure of self-sacrifice, and cannot be regarded as 



a practicable method of betterment. It will be 
efficacious chiefly in the case of individuals among 
the unmarried. 

A particular form of saving that is sometimes 
recommended with the utmost earnestness is absti- 
nence from intoxicating drink. It is undeniable 
that the number of laborers, both well-paid and 
underpaid, who are reduced to a condition of eco- 
nomic wretchedness by this species of indulgence, 
is deplorably large. And yet, even universal total 
abstinence would go but a little way toward im- 
proving the standard of living of the underpaid 
workers. It would be very effective in those indi- 
viduals whose expenditure for intoxicating drink is 
considerably above the average, but for the whole 
class it would realize only a small fraction of the 
claims made by its more enthusiastic advocates. 
The average amounts expended annually for intox- 
icating liquors by families in certain industries are 
submitted in proof of this statement : 1 

T , , Income Expenditure per 

Industry per family family for drink 

Pig iron $5Qi.6i $17.61 

Bar iron 784.11 25.10 

Steel 663.56 26.55 

Bituminous coal 55O-30 18.09 

Coke 572.57 20.25 

Iron ore 401.65 8.58 

Cotton 657.76 15-98 

Woolen 663.13 18.39 

Glass 859.64 54-84 

From this table it appears that the group of fam- 
ilies whose income was lowest, $401.65, had by far 

1 Seventh Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor, 
pp. 854-857- 



the smallest average expenditure for intoxicants, 
$8.58; that the outlay of the four groups of families 
whose annual income fell short of $600 averaged 
only $616.13 for this purpose; and that, with the 
exception of those in the glass industry, none of the 
families in receipt of a higher income were very 
extravagant in the matter. Now if the four groups 
of families just mentioned are typical of the under- 
paid workers generally, it is certain that the practice 
of total abstinence would not elevate them as a class 
to the conditions of a decent livelihood, nor bring 
the lowest sections of them out of poverty into 
meager comfort. An addition of $16.13 to the 
annual income of the families of all the underpaid 
would still leave thousands of them below the level 
of reasonable living. 

Finally, there is the method of betterment fur- 
nished by organization. A formal defence of the 
necessity and utility of the Labor Union is happily 
no longer necessary. The features of our industrial 
system that render organized action indispensable to 
the welfare of the laborer, and the large, numerous, 
and varied gains that organization has brought him, 
are so obvious that only the densely ignorant or the 
hopelessly prejudiced can escape their cogency. 
Economists no longer warn workingmen that all 
combinations entered into for the purpose of raising 
wages must necessarily and inevitably prove futile. 
" Thus, economic authority to-day, looking back on 
the confident assertions against Trade Unionism 
made by M'Culloch and Mill, Nassau Senior and 
Harriet Martineau, Fawcett and Cairnes, has 


humbly to admit, in the words of the present occu- 
pant of the chair once filled by Nassau Senior him- 
self, that ' in the matter of Unionism, as well as in 
that of the predeterminate wage-fund, the untutored 
mind of the workman has gone more straight to the 
point than economic intelligence misled by a bad 
method.' " 1 Professor T. S. Adams maintains, 
indeed, that : " The majority of economists have 
never been ' against the Union/ and to-day profes- 
sional economists are practically unanimous in main- 
taining the usefulness and even the necessity of 
rationally conducted Unions." 2 And the economic 
justification of organization is well stated by Pro- 
fessor Adams : " There is then an indeterminate 
share in the product of industry which goes to the 
factor possessing the greatest bargain-power. Suc- 
cessful bargaining depends largely upon two attri- 
butes, commercial instinct in estimating the highest 
bid that your antagonist can make, and the material 
power of holding out until he is forced to make that 
bid. It needs no discussion to show that the isolated 
laborer is woefully lacking in both these attributes. 
He does not know what the employer can afford to 
bid, and his material wants are so pressing that he 
cannot afford to hold out until the employer's most 
liberal terms are forthcoming. ' In the long run,' 
said Adam Smith, ' the workman may be as neces- 
sary to his master as his master is to him, but the 
necessity is not so immediate.' " 3 That organization 

1 " Industrial Democracy," p. 653, ist ed. 

2 " Labor Problems," p. 241. 

3 " Labor Problems," p. 242. 



has fulfilled in practice the expectations of theory 
is sufficiently indicated in the following excerpt from 
the Final Report of the Industrial Commission : " An 
overwhelming preponderance of testimony before 
the Industrial Commission indicates that the organ- 
ization of labor has resulted in a marked improve- 
ment in the economic condition of the workers." 1 

The effectiveness of organization is naturally 
greatest where it is least needed, in the higher 
groups. Here the workers are more intelligent, 
more self-confident, more ambitious, more closely 
associated in their work, better equipped financially 
to maintain an effective organization, and less ex- 
posed to competition from without. Among the 
poorest sections of the underpaid the obstacles in 
the way of organization are enormous. These work- 
ers are very frequently deficient in the intelligence, 
self-restraint, and mutual trustfulness that are essen- 
tial to the initiation and maintenance of concerted 
action. Long hours at work and insufficient nutri- 
tion deprive them of that leisure and energy that 
are indispensable to the effective prosecution of the 
routine work of an association. Scanty wages ren- 
der exceedingly difficult the accumulation of a re- 
serve fund. The permanency of any organization 
that they may form is threatened by the insecure 
character of their employment ; for their places can 
usually be readily filled from the ranks of the unem- 
ployed. The last condition is, in the opinion of 
Sidney and Beatrice Webb, of itself sufficient to 
render organization valueless for the unskilled. 

i P. 802. 


" There is, in fact, for unspecialized manual labor a 
practically unlimited ' reserve army ' made up of 
the temporarily unemployed members of every other 
class. As these form a perpetually shifting body, 
and the occupation of ' general laboring ' needs no 
apprenticeship, no combination, however co-exten- 
sive it might be with the laborers actually employed 
at any one time, could deprive the employer of the 
alternative of employing an entirely new gang." x 
They refer particularly to England where the per- 
centage of unemployment is much greater than in 
the United States. However, even John Mitchell 
declares : " It must be admitted that this problem of 
the unskilled and untrained is intensely difficult, and 
that it is only partially solvable by direct Trade 
Union effort." 2 

Still there is good reason to believe that the at- 
tempts of even the poorest and weakest of the 
unskilled to maintain organizations are well worth 
while and will be amply justified by the results. 
However great may be the number of unemployed 
who stand ready to take the places of those at work, 
" there will always be a certain difficulty and loss in 
replacing a united body of employees by a body of 
outsiders, though the working capacity of each new 
comer may be equal to that of each member of the 
former gang." 3 Compared with the Unions exist- 
ing on the skilled trades, such associations as the low- 
grade and low-paid workers can support are neces- 

1 " Industrial Democracy," p. 758, 1st ed. 

2 " Organized Labor," p. 168. 

3 Hobson, " Problems of Poverty," p. 114. 



sarily feeble, but they add something to the resisting 
power of the individuals who enter them. This 
increase in righting strength may not always be pro- 
ductive of positive gain, but it is usually effective in 
arresting the forces that otherwise would reduce the 
workers to a still lower level. Organization, more- 
over, is frequently the means of compelling the pub- 
lic to pay some attention to the grievances of the 
oppressed laborer, and to exert its influence, which 
is very considerable, for reform. And the results 
of past attempts to organize effectively the class that 
we are considering have, on the whole, been encour- 
aging. " Trade Unionism," says John Mitchell, 
" has been successful in raising one trade after an- 
other from the profound slough of unskilled, unor- 
ganized, and unregulated labor. Much work which 
was formerly absolutely unskilled and at which men 
were employed a few hours at a time, to be taken 
on or discharged, fined or suspended at will, has 
now become organized so that the men secure fair 
wages, and by reason of that very fact earn and 
deserve them." 1 Two notable examples are fur- 
nished by the garment workers and the anthracite 
coal miners. The former are apparently among the 
most helpless subjects for organization, and yet they 
have by this means achieved very substantial gains. 2 
The union of all the classes of workers employed in 
the anthr.acite mining industry enabled them to carry 
on two great strikes within two years, the conse- 

1 Op. cit., p. 170. 

2 Cf . " The Sweating System," by Henry White, in Bul- 
letin No. 4 of the Bureau of Labor. 



quences of which were an immense improvement in 
the condition of all of them, from the highest to the 
lowest. This particular Labor Union is a good ex- 
ample of the type of organization that will prove 
most effective for the underpaid. The Industrial 
Union so called because it embraces all the 
employees of a given industry instead of being con- 
fined, as is the Trade Union, to those who work at 
a given trade or occupation by making the cause 
of any one section the cause of all, enables the low- 
paid and unskilled to command the active co-opera- 
tion of the higher groups, and therefore to increase 
immeasurably their fighting power. It affords a 
splendid opportunity to the workers to create a real 
brotherhood of labor in which the strong will help 
to bear the burdens of the weak. And present indi- 
cations are that it will before long become the pre- 
vailing form of labor organization in America. 

Of the various forms of self-help discussed in this 
chapter, " sexual self-restraint" is in practice im- 
moral and anti-social ; the increase of productive 
efficiency, the practice of saving, and the exercise 
of temperance are more or less effectual in indi- 
vidual cases; while organization provides the only 
method from which anything like general results 
can be expected. It will not by itself obtain a Liv- 
ing Wage for all the underpaid, but it will accom- 
plish more in this direction than all other efforts that 
the laborer can make put together. 




The policy of non-intervention false in theory and dis- 
credited by experience. Concrete effects of governmental 
restrictions. As the protector of natural rights, the State 
ought to compel employers to pay a Living Wage. The 
opinion of economists concerning the economic feasibility 
of minimum wage legislation. The main objections prove 
too much and have been refuted by experience. Minimum 
wage laws in various countries. The situation in the 
United States. The prospects for this species of legis- 

The obligation of providing the laborer with a 
Living Wage has been fully outlined in its individ- 
ual and class aspects. There remains only the 
question of the extent to which it rests upon the 
State. That baneful heritage of the eighteenth cen- 
tury, the doctrine that a minimum of State regulation 
of industry means a maximum of industrial freedom 
for the individual, no longer counts any considerable 
number of adherents. It is demonstrably false in 
theory, and it has been completely discredited in 
practice. Negatively, liberty is absence of restraint ; 
positively, it is the power to act and to enjoy. Now 
the restraints to action and enjoyment are not all 
political and legal ; consequently the individual may 


possess the fullest immunity from governmental 
interference, and yet be hindered by some other 
restraints, such as, the strength, cunning, or selfish- 
ness of his fellows, from doing and enjoying those 
things that are essential to reasonable life. When- 
ever this happens, the absence of State intervention 
means the presence of insuperable obstacles to real 
and effective liberty. In a word, political and legal 
freedom are not an adequate safeguard to the wel- 
fare of the individual. As the Comte de Mun told 
the French Chamber of Deputies : " Liberty does not 
consist in a theoretical right, but in the possibility 
of exercising it. The power to be free, in a regime 
which puts the workingman's life at the mercy of 
supply and demand; which exposes himself, his 
wife, and his children to the hardships of a com- 
petition that knows no moderation; which sets no 
limit to his exploitation except the interests of those 
who employ him, the power to be free in such 
conditions, when the need of subsistence is so press- 
ing as to permit of no waiting, no choice, no hesita- 
tion, does not exist and consequently the laborer is 
not free." x The economic history of the nineteenth 
century furnishes abundant proof of these state- 
ments, and an overwhelming refutation of the non- 
intervention theory. Perhaps the clearest and most 
logical instance is to be found in the conditions pre- 
vailing in the mines and factories of England before 
the passage of the Factory Acts. 2 

1 Cited in Max Turman's " Le catholicisme sociale," p. 
101. Cf. the excellent analysis in chap. XI of Ely's " Evolu- 
tion of Industrial Society." 

2 See the references given in chapter I. 



Some of the opponents of State intervention in 
industry may be conveniently classed with the juve- 
nile bully who resents the " interference " of parent 
or teacher in his relations with younger and weaker 
boys, and with the burglar or highwayman who ob- 
jects to the activity of the policeman. These are 
the possessors of superior bargaining power who 
realize that if government will only let them alone 
they will be able successfully to exploit their weaker 
fellows. Their opposition is natural in the same 
sense that selfishness is natural. Those who oppose 
State regulation of industry on higher grounds than 
self-interest usually misconceive its concrete effects. 
From this point of view, laws may be divided into 
two classes : Those which actually restrict the lib- 
erty of all or a majority of the citizens; and those 
which limit the freedom of all potentially, but of 
only a few actually. The first class regulates the 
simpler, more frequent, and more general activities 
of every-day life, and puts some practical restriction 
on the freedom of nearly every person. Yet they 
bring to him more freedom than they take away. 
For example, the ordinance forbidding a man to 
monopolize the street or the sidewalk curtails to that 
extent his liberty, but secures him the larger liberty 
of immunity from the inconvenience that would be 
produced by similar unreasonable conduct on the 
part of his fellows. Jevons has well said that, " the 
modern English citizen who lives under the burden 
of the revised edition of the Statutes, not to speak 
of innumerable municipal, railroad, sanitary, and 
other by-laws, is after all an infinitely freer as well 


as nobler creature than the savage who is always 
under the despotism of physical want." And the 
more numerous and complicated social relations be- 
come, the greater will be the necessity for regulation, 
and the larger will be the practical freedom that 
will result from wise regulation. The second class 
of restrictions applies theoretically to all the citizens, 
but practically impedes the liberty or activity of com- 
paratively few, because it has to do with actions 
that are beyond the reach of the great majority. A 
law that forbids one hundred persons to do some- 
thing that ninety-nine of them could never have 
done in any event, will not deprive the ninety-nine of 
any valuable freedom. For instance, a statute com- 
pelling all employers of railway labor to pay a cer- 
tain minimum of wages, or to carry goods and 
passengers at certain maximum rates, would limit 
the freedom of all persons who owned or operated 
railroads; but since those who are or can hope to 
become employers form but a small proportion of 
the whole number of persons engaged in and affected 
by this industry, the liberty of the great majority 
would not be curtailed in any vital way. On the 
contrary, the latter section of the community would 
secure a wider measure of freedom in larger eco- 
nomic opportunities. Now, it is to this class of 
regulations that all the more moderate proposals for 
increased State intervention belong. They would 
enlarge the concrete freedom of the majority, and 

//'The State in Relation to Labor," p. 15. Cf. the keen 
criticism of the " police theory of the State " in Huxley's 
essay on " Administrative Nihilism." 



diminish that of the minority. They would affect 
not so much the legal independence of the individual 
as the distribution of economic opportunities among 
different groups of individuals. 

As an abstract proposition, the State has both the 
right and the duty to compel all employers to pay a 
Living Wage. 1 The function of the State is to pro- 
mote the social welfare. The social welfare means 
in practice the welfare of all individuals over whom 
the State has authority; and the welfare of the in- 
dividual includes all those conditions that assist in 
the pursuit of his earthly end, namely, the reason- 
able development of his personality. The primary 
business of the State, then, is to protect men in the 
enjoyment of those opportunities that are essential 
to right and reasonable life. They may be summed 
up in the phrase, natural rights. In addition to this, 
the State is charged with the obligation of promot- 
ing social prosperity. That is to say, its task is not 
merely to provide men with the opportunities that 
are absolutely essential to right living, but also to 
furnish as far as practicable the conditions of wider 
and fuller life. Since man's capacity for progress is 
indefinite, the State will fail in its mission of fur- 
thering social welfare unless it does something to- 
ward securing to him the external conditions of 
something more than the minimum of reasonable 
personal development. State activity in the first 
sense is mainly protective and restrictive; in the 

1 Cf. Vermeersch, " Quaestiones de Justitia," pp. 581, 582; 
Lehmkuhl, " Theologia Moralis," I, p. 715, gth ed.; Pettier, 
" De Jure et de Justitia," pp. 262, 263 ; Pope Leo XIII, 
Encyclical on the Condition of Labor. 


second, auxiliary and co-operative. 1 Now, a law re- 
quiring employers to pay a Living Wage would 
evidently be an instance of State activity in the 
primary sense, for it would be an attempt to protect 
natural rights, and to provide one of the essential 
conditions of reasonable human life. Even those 
who hold that the sole function of the State is to 
safeguard individuals against violence and injustice, 
in other words, to protect life and property, could 
logically admit that the enactment of such a law 
would not be an undue exercise of power. To com- 
pel a man to work for less than a Living Wage is 
as truly an act of injustice as to pick his pocket. 
In a wide sense it is also an attack upon his life. 
An ordinance prohibiting this species of oppression 
would, therefore, be a measure for the protection 
of life and property. 

When the first edition of this book was in prep- 
aration (1905) only two economists could be found 
who had discussed the feasibility of enforcing a 
Living Wage by law. The verdict of both was in 
the negative. To-day the great majority of Amer- 
ican economists are of the contrary opinion. They, 
have come to see that the arguments against the 
legal minimum wage are unsound in theory and have 
been refuted by experience. 

Almost all the economic objections may be re- 
duced to the following: Any increase in wages 
brought about by a minimum wage law will be 

1 For discussions of the functions of the State, see 
Bouquillon, " Theologia Moralis Fundamentalist pp. 445- 
450, 3d ed. ; Willoughby, " The Nature of the State," pas- 
sim ; and Lilly, " First Principles in Politics," passim. 


passed on to the consumer in the form of higher 
prices; whence will follow a decreased demand for 
goods and for the labor that makes the goods ; hence, 
the net result will be a diminished amount of 

One obvious answer to this argument is that it 
is quite as valid, or as invalid, against any other 
method of increasing wages as it is against the 
method of legislation. It would condemn alike the 
efforts of the trade union and those of the benevolent 
employer. The direct and specific reply is that the 
argument ignores certain very pertinent economic 
facts. Besides increased prices, there are three 
other sources from which to derive the increase in 
wages required by a minimum wage law. They 
are: the increased productive power of the better 
paid and better fed workers ; the improved methods 
of production introduced by the employers to meet 
the increased costs; and a reduction of profits, 
through the elimination of the less efficient directors 
of industry, and sometimes through the compulsory 
acceptance of lower profits by many employers. 
Where these three factors are not sufficient to pro- 
vide the additional wages, there will undoubtedly 
occur some increase in prices. Nevertheless, there 
need not follow a falling off in the aggregate de- 
mand for goods. The smaller amount taken by 
some consumers may be more than offset by the 
increase in the purchases of those workers whose 
remuneration has been increased by the minimum 
wage law. 

This analysis of the situation is amply supported 


by experience. Minimum wage laws have been in 
operation in the state of Victoria, Australia, since 
1896. They have been gradually extended in 
that quarter of the world, until to-day they are 
practically universal throughout Australasia. First 
introduced into Great Britain in 1910, they apply 
at present to a very large proportion of the indus- 
tries of that country. In the United States, the 
first minimum wage law was that of Massachusetts, 
enacted in 1912. To-day similar laws are on the 
statute books of fourteen other states and the District 
of Columbia. Within the last three years, a min- 
imum wage law has been adopted and put into 
operation in Manitoba. Speaking generally, we 
may say that in none of these states and countries 
have the objections urged against this legislation 
been proved valid by experience, and that in prac- 
tically all of them the success of the laws has ex- 
ceeded all expectations. 

The situation in the United States with regard 
to minimum wage legislation is peculiar in three 
important respects. First, the laws already enacted 
apply only to women and children ; second, the pro T 
vision in our Federal Constitution and in most of 
our state constitutions forbidding persons to be de- 
prived of life, liberty or property without due pro- 
cess of law, was for a long time thought to be fatal 
to any minimum wage law, and probably is still an 
obstacle to legislation of this sort on behalf of adult 
males. Among the main reasons why the existing 
laws have been restricted to women and minors are 
this question of constitutionality, the fact that an 



exercise of legislative power on behalf of exploited 
women and children seems to the average man more 
reasonable and more necessary than a similar meas- 
ure for adult males, and the still prevailing impres- 
sion that the latter are able to take care of themselves. 
As regards women and minors, the constitutional 
question has happily been solved by the decision of 
the United States Supreme Court, April 9, 1917, 
sustaining the finding of the Oregon Supreme Court 
in favor of this species of legislation. Whether a 
minimum wage law for men would be likewise de- 
clared constitutional at this time or in the near 
future, is a question that cannot be confidently an- 
swered beforehand. In any case, the prospects are 
much more favorable than they were ten years ago. 
All the signs of the times point to a rapid exten- 
sion of minimum wage legislation in all civilized 
countries. For the principle that wages ought not 
to fall below the level of decent living is now all 
but universally recognized; the principle that it is 
a proper function of the State to protect the worker 
against such injustice is likewise quite generally 
accepted ; and all unbiased observers realize that the 
majority of the underpaid workers cannot be lifted 
out of that condition within a reasonable time except 
by the method of legal enactment. 1 

1 Durin'g the last ten years a very extensive literature 
has been produced on the subject of the minimum wage. 
An excellent presentation of the matter, with many refer- 
ences, is to be found in Commons and Andrews' " Princi- 
ples of Labor Legislation," pp. 167-200. 



Resume of the main argument. Three important con- 
clusions : (a) a complete scheme of distributive justice is 
exceedingly difficult to formulate; (b) a universal Living 
Wage would mean an immense improvement in social and 
industrial conditions; and (c) the realization of it is less 
difficult than the realization of any other plan that would 
yield equal results. 

The main argument of this volume may be sum- 
marized as follows : the laborer's right to a Living 
Wage is the specific form of his generic right to 
obtain on reasonable conditions sufficient of the 
earth's products to afford him a decent livelihood. 
The latter right is, like all other moral rights, based 
on his intrinsic worth as a person, and on the 
sacredness of those needs that are essential to the 
reasonable development of personality. Among the 
things to which these needs point there is included 
a certain amount of material goods. A man's right 
to this indispensable minimum of the bounty of na- 
ture is as valid as his right to life : the difference is 
merely in degree of importance. Now when the 
man whose social and economic function is that of 
a wage earner has expended all his working time 



and energy in the performance of some useful task, 
he has fulfilled the only condition that in his case can 
be regarded as a reasonable prerequisite to the actual 
enjoyment of his right to a decent livelihood. The 
obligation of providing him with the material means 
of living decently rests in a general way upon all 
his fellow men. That is to say, they are all under 
moral restraint not to do anything that would be an 
unreasonable interference with his access to these 
means. However, it is only those persons who are 
in control of the goods and opportunities of living 
that are practically within his reach, who can effec- 
tively hinder or promote his enjoyment of the right 
in question. When they prevent him from peace- 
ably getting possession of the requisite amount of 
goods, they are morally responsible for his failure 
to obtain a decent livelihood. Their action is as 
unjust as that of the majority of the first occupants 
of a No-man's Land who should force the minority 
to work for a bare subsistence. This specific obli- 
gation of the class of persons that we are consid- 
ering falls primarily upon the employer; for his 
economic position as direct beneficiary of the la- 
borer's exertion and as payer of wages, renders this 
the only practicable outcome of any reasonable divi- 
sion of the community's opportunities of living and 
of the corresponding responsibilities. Nor can the 
employer escape this duty of paying a Living Wage 
by taking refuge behind the terms of a so-called free 
contract. The fact is that the underpaid laborer 
does not willingly sell his labor for less than the 
equivalent of a decent livelihood, any more than the 



wayfarer willingly gives up his purse to the high- 
wayman. It is the superior economic force (which 
consists essentially in the ability to wait, while the 
laborer must go to work to-day or starve) possessed 
by the employer that enables him to hire labor for 
less than a Living Wage. And the employer who 
can afford to pay a Living Wage is no more justified 
in using his superior economic strength in this way 
than he would be justified in using superior physical 
strength to prevent the laborer from taking posses- 
sion of a sack of flour or a suit of clothes that the 
latter had bought and paid for. In both cases the 
laborer is deprived by superior strength of some- 
thing to which he has a right. As a determinant of 
rights, economic force has no more validity or 
sacredness than physical force. The other economic 
classes in the community, the landowner, the loan- 
capitalist, the consumer, and the man of wealth, 
share the responsibility of providing the laborer with 
a decent livelihood in a secondary degree, and in 
accordance with the nature and possibilities of their 
several economic positions. Finally, the State is 
morally bound to compel employers to pay a Living 
Wage whenever and wherever it can, with a mod- 
erate degree of success, put into effect the appro- 
priate legislation. 

The discussion carried on and the considerations 
suggested in the preceding chapters point to three 
important conclusions which may briefly be set down 
here. The first is that the determination of com- 
plete justice in the field of economic distribution is 
bewilderingly difficult. According to the view of 


the writer, the order of importance among the 
various canons of distributive justice is as follows : 
the needs of the worker ; the cost of preparation for 
tasks requiring skill of any kind; the legitimate 
risks of necessary business enterprises; the pro- 
portion of individual energy expended by the 
worker; the disagreeableness of the work; the pro- 
ductivity of labor ; and the productivity of property, 
whether land or capital. Most persons would prob- 
ably agree that in any completely just scheme of 
distribution all of these factors would have to be 
taken into account, but not all who accepted the 
list would subscribe to this order. And those who 
accepted this order, or any other order, would find 
it well-nigh impossible to determine in any partic- 
ular case the precise degree of importance that ought 
to be attributed to one factor, or canon, relatively to 
the others. For example, men might agree that 
disagreeableness of work is a higher title to wages 
than productivity, and yet disagree as to the precise 
ratio of importance that should be held to exist 
between these two standards. Even if all the dif- 
ficulties involved in the problem of a completely 
just remuneration of the different agents of produc- 
tion were removed, there would still be the question 
of the just claims of the consumer. Are all the 
benefits resulting from improvements in production 
to go to the agents of production? or, should the 
consumer share them in the form of lower prices? 
and if so, in what proportion? Here we have a 
conflict between the productivity of the producers 
and the needs of the consumers which will occur 



continuously, and for the adjustment of which it is 
practically impossible to lay down objective rules. 

The second conclusion to be drawn is that the 
universal application of the Living Wage principle 
would cause an immense improvement in our indus- 
trial and social conditions. It would mean an in- 
crease in various degrees, in the remuneration of a 
very large proportion, not improbably a majority, 
of both the male and female workers in all the 
countries of the world. It would go very far to- 
ward removing those plague spots of our cities in 
which thousands upon thousands of human beings 
are able to obtain only a fraction of the requisites 
of physical health and comfort, and are foredoomed 
from infancy to mental and moral degeneracy. Of 
the millions who are now above these lowest eco- 
nomic depths and yet below the plane of a decent 
livelihood, thousands would be freed from the neces- 
sity of working at an age at which they ought to 
be in school ; thousands who at present can com- 
mand only the bare necessities of living would real- 
ize for the first time the meaning and the blessings 
of moderate comfort; thousands of men who are 
able to provide for the present wants of themselves 
and families, but can lay by nothing for the con- 
tingencies of the future, would be lifted out of this 
depressing condition; and thousands of young men 
who cannot now contemplate marriage would be 
able to become heads of families and live as normal 
human beings. For a large proportion of those 
who are at present underpaid, a Living Wage would 
prove a stepping-stone to a still higher condition. 


Our " perpetual danger of overproduction" would 
be greatly diminished, owing to the enlarged con- 
suming power of the wage-earning class. For the 
same reason a demand would be created for the 
services of the greater number of these who are now 
constantly unemployed. Finally, the nation's gain 
in physical, mental and moral health, and in the 
increase of contentment and good feeling among its 
citizens, would ensure its continued pre-eminence 
among the world's happiest, most vigorous, and most 
progressive peoples. 

In the third place, it may be safely asserted that 
an earnest and systematic endeavor to extend the 
Living Wage principle throughout the entire field 
of industry, would be followed by a larger measure 
of beneficial results than any other method of indus- 
trial reform that could be pursued. The means that 
may be efficaciously employed in this endeavor are 
briefly, moral suasion and social effort. Both of 
them are now unduly magnified and now unduly 
minimized by partisan advocates. We are not in- 
frequently assured that, " only religion will solve 
the labor question." Most certainly it will not be 
permanently and adequately solved without religion, 
that is, without the aid of religious agencies and a 
larger infusion of the religious spirit into the minds 
and hearts of men; but neither will religion suffice 
in the absence of a detailed application of moral 
principles to the relations of employer and employee. 
Men may be religious in the ordinary meaning of 
the term, and yet remain so thoroughly dominated 
by the ethical code of unlimited competition that they 


are blind to the many forms of moral wrong which 
that code sanctions. There are thousands of em- 
ployers in every church organization who wish to 
live up to the standards of their respective denom- 
inations, and believe that they are succeeding fairly 
well, who nevertheless feel no conscientious scruples 
when they pay their employees much less than a 
Living Wage. They see no wrong in this, for are 
they not paying the current rates ? In other words, 
they conform to the standard of business ethics, 
instead of to the standard of Christian ethics. The 
moral suasion that will produce results implies ear- 
nest, continuous, and enlightened activity on the part 
of public teachers and moulders of public opinion. 
If clergymen would give as much attention to 
preaching and expounding the duty of paying a Liv- 
ing Wage as they do to the explanation of other 
duties that are no more important, and if they would 
use all the power of their ecclesiastical position to 
deprive recalcitrant employers of the church privi- 
leges that are ordinarily denied to persistently dis- 
obedient members; and if public speakers and 
writers who discuss questions of industrial justice 
would, in concrete terms, hold up to public denun- 
ciation those employers who can pay a Living Wage 
and will not, the results would constitute an ample 
refutation of the libelous assertion that employers 
cannot be got to act justly by moral suasion. They 
have never been made to feel a fraction of its power. 
The term, social effort, is here used to describe the 
activity both of private associations, such as Labor 
Unions, and of the State. It is true that the ef- 


ficiency of social effort is limited by the character 
of the individuals through whom the effort is made. 
If individuals have not an intelligent grasp of the 
ethical principles involved in the Living Wage ques- 
tion, and the will to apply these principles in prac- 
tice, their achievements as an organization will be 
seriously diminished. But it is also true that organ- 
ized effort will add very materially to the results 
that can be accomplished through moral suasion ad- 
dressed to individuals. This very obvious general 
truth is superlatively true in our time, when man's 
social relations have become so numerous and so 
complex. Both methods are necessary. There 
must be an appeal to the minds and hearts of indi- 
viduals, and the fullest utilization of the latent 
power of organization and social institutions. A 
reasonable and sustained endeavor to employ the 
two methods in extending the Living Wage prin- 
ciple will accomplish more for the laboring class, 
especially for its poorest-paid members, than a like 
amount of effort expended in any other way. 
Speaking comparatively, the remedy is efficacious, 
and the means of putting it into effect practicable. 

Printed in the United States of America. 

RYAN, J.A. HB > 

A living wage. 301